Can TMS Be Used for Addiction?

Drug and alcohol addiction, or substance use disorder, is a potentially deadly condition that affects around 20 million people in the U.S. alone. Nearly 71,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2019. It’s clear that this is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed.

TMS therapy could offer a new, innovative, and effective treatment option for people living with substance use disorder. It’s been approved for treating treatment-resistant depression – people who’ve tried everything for depression without finding any relief. And many studies have found that TMS could be beneficial for reducing cravings and relapse in people with other substance use disorders as well.

What is substance use disorder?


Using substances to alter your mind doesn’t mean that you have an addiction. For example, most of us use caffeine to alter our minds every morning. But some people may use substances in a way that it starts to interfere with their day-to-day functioning. These people could have substance use disorder, a serious health condition that requires treatment.

The symptoms of substance use disorder are:

  • Using more drugs or alcohol than you’d planned/intended
  • Trying, and failing, to decrease or quit using substances
  • Spending a lot of your time using, recovering from, or trying to get access to drugs and alcohol
  • Having strong cravings or urges to use drugs and alcohol
  • Continuing to use drugs and alcohol even when it starts causing serious problems in your life (such as work or relationships)
  • Neglecting your responsibilities in order to use substances
  • Building up tolerance, which means you need more and more of the substance in order to achieve the same “high”
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop

Studies show that addiction changes the way your brain works. Drugs and alcohol interact with your brain in such a way that makes you want more and more. You may experience very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. Long-term use of certain drugs could also make it very difficult for you to feel joy or reward without the drugs.

Benefits of TMS therapy for substance use disorder


TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, is a non-invasive, drug-free treatment option for many different mental health conditions. Some research suggests it could be helpful in treating substance use disorder. Through TMS, we can directly calm the part of the brain that causes drug or alcohol cravings.

When we use TMS for substance use disorder, we use it in conjunction with other evidence-based treatment methods.

For example, some medications are helpful, and sometimes necessary, for people breaking free from opioid addiction (opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl, and more). These medications can make it easier to get through the process of withdrawal. Some people may also need medical attention while they’re detoxing.

But TMS therapy can be an important part of a multi-faceted treatment approach for substance use disorder.

TMS works by using electromagnetic technology to stimulate certain areas of the brain that are affected by mental health conditions, like substance use disorder. It’s mostly painless (some people report slight stinging in the scalp where the coil is placed), and doesn’t come with any of the side effects that many medications have.

And research shows that TMS is effective for substance use disorder. For example, a report found that TMS was significantly more effective than standard treatment for people with cocaine use disorder. Another review found that rTMS, when directed at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was effective for reducing cravings and consumption of drugs and alcohol. A single-blind, shame-controlled study found that TMS was helpful for reducing alcohol cravings and relapse as well.

TMS is an especially good option for people in recovery who are hesitant to use medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with using these medications to recover from a harmful addiction, some people in recovery prefer not to put any substances in their bodies – and that’s a valid choice, too.

TMS doesn’t require any medications. Since it’s a non-invasive procedure (unlike ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy), you don’t even need to go under anesthesia to receive TMS. Most patients have no side effects, and you can drive yourself home or to work directly after your session.

Is TMS FDA-approved for addiction?


TMS is not yet FDA-approved for treating addiction. This doesn’t mean that it’s not safe or effective for substance use disorder; it just means that we need more research to be able to prove it.

However, TMS is FDA-approved for depression. Depression and substance use disorder are deeply linked. Studies show that people with depression are twice as likely to have substance use disorder than people without depression. And the relationship goes both ways – depression, and self-medication of symptoms, can sometimes lead to substance use disorder. And misusing substances often makes depression worse.

By targeting depression through TMS, you can break this cycle. When your depression symptoms improve, you become less likely to self-medicate or relapse. You may feel like you no longer need to use illicit substances to feel better.

The fact that TMS isn’t yet approved for substance use disorder does, unfortunately, mean that we may have a harder time getting your insurance plan to cover it. But we will work with your provider to find options. If you have co-occurring depression along with substance use disorder, then your TMS treatment for depression would be covered.

TMS therapy in Southern Colorado


Southern Colorado TMS is the premier provider of TMS therapy in the southern Colorado area. This innovative treatment may be able to reduce your cravings, as well as help you recover from depression symptoms that could be contributing to addiction.

Get in touch with us to learn more about TMS, whether you’re eligible, and how you can get started.

Other Blogs