Alcohol addiction and the affects of rTMS

The Battle for Control

Non-discriminatory, debilitating, hopelessness; for those suffering from alcoholism, it can feel like a dark cloud that isolates you from the rest of the world. Alcohol addiction is often accompanied with the stigma that the person affected has no self-control, that they have no one else to blame but themselves. At Smart TMS, we know there’s much more to it than that.

Alcoholism Shrinks Your Brain!

This isn’t figurative – long term heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to a reduce the size of important brain structures, like the hippocampus. This is a complex region of the brain that helps with the formation of new memories. It is not uncommon for alcohol to cause gaps in your memory after a night of drinking, but it won’t affect you in your day to day. Chronic alcohol addiction goes further than this, resulting in lasting damage to the brains ability to recall meaningful and cherished memories. In some cases, this prolonged damage can even lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

TMS Takes Back Control

Loss of control over substance misuse is believed to be caused by a disruption in a brain area called the prefrontal cortex (PFC). When the PFC is not functioning normally, this can cause changes in behaviour and making it difficult to resist the urge to reach for the drink.

And this is where TMS comes in – giving you back control and making it easer to resist alcohol cravings. As displayed in the study conducted by Harel et al (2021).

No More Cravings

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) was used to treat people suffering with severe alcoholism. This meant most of the patients in this study were suffering from strong alcohol cravings, despite knowing that drinking can be severely detrimental to their health. Their addiction was so severe it had begun to impact their ability to work and their meaningful relationships with loved ones.

The patients were treated with a high frequency stimulation on the PFC to help reactive this neural network. The patients were treated alongside a placebo group who were made to believe they were getting rTMS treatment. Then after five weeks of treatment, patients were put to the test! Each were given an alcoholic beverage to hold, smell, but to not drink. Then they were asked to rate how intense their craving was for alcohol.

The patients who had undergone the rTMS treatment reported lower urges of alcohol craving than those who were in the placebo group.

Less Heavy Drinkers

One of the more intriguing results from this study showed long lasting change had occurred in the TMS patient group. Patients overall reported feeling less inclined to drink as much as they previously did post treatment. With a reduction in alcohol craving, this impacted the patients long term behaviour, life quality and relationship with alcohol. Many patients in this study considered TMS to be like a “silver bullet” treatment that could cure all, but it’s much more sophisticated than that. By changing the way, the brain operates on a neurological level, tit has a profound long term positive impact on behaviour.

In addition to the reduced alcohol cravings, patients also found that their mood improved. Those who responded well to TMS for alcohol cravings, found the depression and anxiety that came with it significantly reduced. By targeting the PFC, TMS propagates stimulation to other parts of the brain that regulate mood.

The most important take away from this study was that patients regained control over alcohol. TMS offers light through the dark cloud caused by addiction

Author, Paul Ballantyne,
Smart TMS Edinburgh Practitioner


Harel, M., Perini, I., Kampe, R., Alyagon, U., Shalev, H., Besser, I., Sommer, W.H., Heikig, M., and Zanger, A., (2021). Repetitive, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Alcohol Dependance: A randomized Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled Proof-of-Concept Trial Targeting the Medial Prefrontal and Anterior Cingulate Cortices. Society of Biological Psychiatry. 91: 1061-1069.