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- 19 March 2024

Addictions: The Innovative Therapy Studied by the Istituto di Neuroscienze

A recent study conducted by the Istituto di Neuroscienze and published in a prestigious international scientific journal offers new hope for the treatment of addictions through an innovative therapy with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

Substance and Behavioral Addictions ― A Public Health Issue

Substance Use Disorders and Behavioral Addictions represent a growing public health problem. Millions and millions of people around the world suffer from these disorders, which have a significant negative impact on the lives of those who suffer from them and on the entire society.

The two types of addiction have remarkable similarities, including:

  • Difficulty controlling one's behavior;

  • Craving, tolerance, and withdrawal;

  • Ongoing engagement in addictive behavior despite the negative consequences it causes.

Thanks to recent neuroscience research, the understanding of the neural substrates underlying substance and behavioral addictions has increased considerably. In recent years, the field of psychiatry has turned a special interest toward Behavioral Addictions, mainly due to the significant increase in the number of people who suffer from them and the paucity of effective therapies available.

The study by the Istituto of NeuroscienceNew Hope for Addiction Treatment

To address the increasingly pressing problem of addictions, a recent study ― conducted by the Istituto di Neuroscienze in collaboration with prestigious international research groups including Harvard University ― has tested the efficacy of an innovative therapy that uses a particular Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) protocol: Theta Burst Stimulation.

The research ― published in the prestigious International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction ― involved two groups of patients diagnosed with Gambling Disorder and Substance Addiction, focusing on modulating the activity of a specific brain area involved in the brain mechanisms underlying addictions: the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA).

The results obtained from the study were encouraging for both groups! Through the magnetic action applied to the pre-SMA, transcranial stimulation was able to produce:

  • A reduction in the intensity of craving, that is, the intense desire to engage in the addictive behavior;

  • Una diminuzione della gravità complessiva della dipendenza misurata attraverso questionari specifici;

  • A decrease in the overall severity of addiction as measured by specific questionnaires;

  • A reduction in impulsivity within the group of subjects with substance addictions. This latter result is particularly significant because impulsivity is often at the root of relapses experienced by those with addiction.

How Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS) Works

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique that uses the magnetic field to stimulate or inhibit specific brain areas. A magnetic pulse can painlessly penetrate the treated person's skull and reach the cerebral cortex, inducing a stimulatory current capable of modulating the activity of neuron cells.

The Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS) protocol is a new and promising modality of TMS administration that uses high-frequency magnetic pulses (50Hz) to deliver two different types of protocols capable of obtaining opposite effects on brain cells:

  1. Continuous TBS: capable of reducing the brain activity of the cortical areas of interest;

  2. Intermittent TBS: capable of increasing the brain activity of the cortical regions of interest.

Thanks to its high stimulation intensity, TBS can stimulate the brain in a more effective and lasting way than standard stimulation, potentially obtaining positive effects in a shorter time and sometimes lasting longer than those obtained with standard TMS.

A Step Forward Towards Targeted Therapies

The study conducted by the Istituto di Neuroscienze represents a real step forward in the search for effective treatments for addictions, as it highlights the potential of Theta Burst Stimulation as a targeted and effective treatment for these disorders.

In the study, Theta Burst stimulation was applied to the pre-SMA ― an area of the brain involved in behavior selection and inhibitory control ― suggesting that by improving the functionality of this brain area, it may be possible to increase the ability to resist addiction-related impulses.

Dr. Pallanti's research is the first to have directly investigated the effects of this kind of stimulation on Substance Addictions, comparing the efficacy of this protocol between these disorders and Behavioral Addictions.

The study therefore offers valuable insights for the development of increasingly targeted interventions capable of reducing the negative impact of addictions on the lives of those who suffer from them. Furthermore, it opens the way for further research to fully understand the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these disorders, to optimize currently available therapies and to guide the discovery of new specific treatments.

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