Finding lasting relief from the stranglehold of drug or alcohol addiction can be a formidable challenge. Those who struggle with addiction may even successfully complete a treatment program, only to see themselves relapse soon after discharge. To work so hard at getting clean and sober—going through detox and withdrawal, getting intensive therapy, and actively participating in a recovery community—just to see these efforts fail is both frustrating and demoralizing.
One of the common characteristics of addiction is the presence of a co-occurring mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. The mystery of the dual diagnosis is which disorder appeared first, the mental health disorder or the substance use disorder? Either way, it is essential that both disorders be treated for a successful, sustainable recovery. Addiction cannot be fully managed in recovery if the underlying issues that contribute to both the mood disorder and the addictive behaviors are not treated.
A new entry in addiction recovery is the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as an adjunct therapy for treating substance use disorders. TMS has already been clinically proven to be highly effective in treating depression, and in Europe TMS is cleared to treat anxiety, bipolar disorder, cocaine addiction, nicotine addiction, and a myriad of health conditions as well. In recent years, TMS has shown much promise for helping those in recovery from addiction or a dual diagnosis.
TMS is a noninvasive, well-tolerated brain stimulation technique that relies on magnetic fields that are produced via an electromagnetic coil placed over the scalp. The repetitive magnetic pulses penetrate the skull and target the prefrontal cortex, specifically the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system also referred to as the mood center, regulates emotions, memory, learning, and arousal.
TMS works to reboot the brain chemistry in this region that has become off kilter. The electrical currents that are induced by the magnetic fields stimulate the nerve cells in the limbic region, which had become sluggish. The frequency used in TMS therapy can be regulated, from fast, defined as 10-20 Hertz, or slow, 1 Hertz, and studies on using TMS for treating addiction show that the fast frequency is most effective. Ongoing TMS therapy over a 4-6 week period can reset the brain chemistry, resulting in improved mood, energy level, sleep quality, and can reduce cravings in addicts.
Addiction and Co-Occurring Mood Disorders
There exists a well-known connection between alcohol use disorder and depression. According to data cited in an article, Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders, Shivani et.al, published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 80% of alcoholics experience mood disturbances at some point, with 30-40% suffering from major depression.
In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse cites shared risk factors for addiction and mental health disorders, including:
- Some individuals are genetically predisposed to both addiction and mental disorders.
- Stress, trauma, and early drug use are common environmental factors that can lead to both mental illness and addiction.
- The reward center of the brain is affected by drugs and may also show abnormalities in individuals with mental health disorders.
- Early exposure to drugs may change brain structures in ways that increase the risk of developing mental illness.
How TMS Helps Those in Recovery from Addiction and Dual Diagnosis
Preliminary clinical data demonstrates that TMS can be a safe and effective therapeutic intervention in staving off cravings. Cravings remain a major issue in early recovery, and can swiftly result in relapse. TMS can help treat addiction by stimulating brain cells in the limbic system, which regulates cravings. TMS offers a drug-free alternative to opioid-based medications designed to also reduce cravings, such as Suboxone, methadone, and buprenorphine.
Over the past decade, TMS has been a successful therapy for treatment-resistant depression and is being now used for treating anxiety and bipolar disorder as well. For individuals with a dual diagnosis, such as alcoholism and depression, TMS can potentially provide relief for both co-occurring disorders.
About the Author
Suzanne Jessee is the CEO and Executive for Business Development for Anew Era TMS, a provider of TMS therapy located in Southern California. Suzanne is a TMS industry expert, as well as a master’s level clinical therapist and addictions counselor. Having spent twenty years on the front lines of addiction and recovery, Suzanne is utilizing her vast experience to treat addiction and dual diagnosis patients using TMS therapy.