TMS Therapy: Can Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Treat Abuse?

Last Updated: July 6, 2020

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

There is no denying that addiction treatment has come a long way. Therapies, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation allow the patient to receive treatment in a way that does not involve more drugs or invasive procedures. TMS therapy is considered to be effective for the treatment of both addiction and mental illnesses. Learn what TMS is, why it’s done, how TMS works, conditions it can be used for, its cost, side effects, and more.

Introduction To TMS Therapy

This therapy is usually done when first-line treatments such as addiction treatment medication, therapies, ECT, and self-help activities are not effective on an individual.

Working Principle Of TMS Therapy

During the TMS therapy, an electromagnetic coil is placed near the brain area, which is responsible for mood regulation. The coil sends out a magnetic pulse that stimulates the nerve cells in the brain. The overall stimulation has a lasting effect on brain functioning that helps or depression symptoms. TMS does not require anesthesia and is well-tolerated, as compared to other treatments, such as ETC.
Equipment for the transcranial magnetic stimulation

Uses Of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Like psychodynamic techniques and other behavioral therapies, TMS is used for various mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. It is also used to treat individuals who are suffering from substance abuse.

TMS For Depression

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy uses magnetic pulses to affect the limbic system, responsible for regulating cravings in the brain and helps an individual to recover. The therapy reboots the brain network in the affected areas. The reboot speeds up the recovery and also addresses the mental health issues, such as depression.
One factor that makes it a safe treatment is that it only operates to a limited depth inside the brain.

TMS For Meth Addiction

A double-blind, randomized trial published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found a significant decrease in craving and withdrawal symptoms after ten days of rTMS treatment. The study proved that rTMS also acts as a prospective tool against withdrawal syndrome.
Further, meth detoxification is also possible when high-frequency targets the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

doctor showing TMS results to her colleagues

TMS For Coke Addiction

According to a US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health study, rTMS reduces cocaine craving. 11 out of 16 people who received rTMS treatment for cocaine addiction did not experience the symptoms after one month of therapy. On the other hand, the group who received standard treatment, only 3 were free from their symptoms in the same time frame.
According to a study mentioned above, the deeper stimulation of magnetic field associated with the rTMS has odds of obtaining long-lasting effects, such as a reduction in drug consumption and craving. rTMS is also found to be effective in treating psychological and behavioral patterns of cocaine addiction.

TMS For Alcohol Dependence

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy is known as a safe and effective way to get rid of alcohol addiction. This therapy calms the area of the brain, which causes a craving for alcohol. If someone is trying to detox from alcohol, this therapy helps them to become successful in it by reducing the cravings. Along with this, the likelihood of relapse is also reduced.

TMS Therapy Procedure

When TMS Starts Working?

How To Prepare For TMS?

Before the patient goes for TMS or rTMS, the individual should go through a:

  •  Psychiatric evaluation to evaluate the present condition of your mental health.
  • Physical exam and other lab tests.

 What Will Happen During Each Session?

During the session, the patient will sit in a comfortable chair with earplugs, and a magnetic coil placed on the head. When the machine is turned on, the individual will hear clicking sounds and experience a tingling sensation in the head.
woman measuring brainwaves with TMS
The procedure will last for around 40 minutes, and the individual might feel some scalp discomfort (during and afterward).

Side Effects Of TMS Therapy

Since TMS is a non-invasive treatment, it is considered safe and well-tolerated. However, it causes some side effects, including:

  • Scalp discomfort
  • Mild headaches
  • Spasms
  • Lightheadedness
  • Twitching of facial muscles

The most serious side effect of TMS treatment is a seizure. But the risk of this effect is at around .001%. If a patient experiences any of the above transcranial magnetic stimulation side effects, the doctor will either adjust the level of stimulation or recommend over-the-counter medications.
Further, the persons who should not undergo this therapy include:

  •  Pregnant women
  • Taking medications, including herbal, vitamins, OTCs or prescription
  • Having a history of seizures
  • Have implanted medical devices, such as stents, magnetic implants, stimulators, electrodes, coils, bullet fragments, or any other metal device.
  •  Have mental health disorders
  • Suffered from any brain diseases

Difference Between TMS vs. ECT

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is a procedure where controlled electrical currents are passed through the brain, while the person is under anesthesia. This treatment results in a controlled seizure that affects chemicals in the brain and resets it.
Unlike ECT, TMS does not involve the application of direct current to a patient’s head. It just stimulates a specific part of the brain by creating a magnetic field around it. Further, this process also does not result in seizures or any severe after-effects.

Doctor Showing TMS Scan of Brain

Cost Of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

The cost of TMS therapy varies, according to the level of treatment and stimulation required by an individual. But usually, transcranial magnetic stimulation cost lies in the range of $400-$500 per session. The total cost for the entire session goes about $15,000.

Seeking TMS Therapy Nearby

When it comes to seeking treatment for addiction, there is no remedy that works for everyone. Some get help from first-line treatments, such as medications, and more, while others rely on EMDR treatment or even music treatment, but there are some people who are unable to tolerate the side effects caused by OTCs and ECT therapy. However, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy works for them.


Page Sources

  1. Ying Liang, Lei Wang, Ti-Fei Yuan, Targeting Withdrawal Symptoms in Men Addicted to Methamphetamine With Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6583874/
  2. Corinna Bolloni, Paola Badas, Giorgio Corona, Marco Diana, Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of cocaine addiction: evidence to date, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5967377/

Published on: November 5th, 2019

Updated on: July 6th, 2020

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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