Deep Brain Stimulation Implant Could Soon Be Used to Treat Opioid Addiction

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Written by: on 16th February, 2018

Eight years from now, a type of deep brain stimulation therapy could be used to eliminate addictive tendencies in those struggling with opioid addiction. Today, opioid addiction is commonly treated using detox, therapy, and medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. But research shows that deep brain stimulation, or DBS, may be able to help the brain work differently to lower the risk for addiction and deadly overdose.

How Can Brain Implants Treat Addiction?

opioid addiction

Addiction of any type is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease, and often requires ongoing treatment just like asthma, diabetes, and other chronic medical conditions. Over time, drug and alcohol abuse can cause changes in the brain that trigger compulsive behavior, such as the urge to continue using drugs and alcohol despite negative consequences. Drugs like opioids are highly addictive due to the way they interfere with your brain’s dopamine levels, or “reward center” of the brain.

DBS treats addiction by sending electrical signals directly to the brain’s reward center to minimize activity driving addictive behavior. The implant can be surgically placed into a patient’s skull, and controlled using a small pacemaker device. People who have failed to stay sober after several attempts at overcoming opioid addiction can use DBS to modify their brain function and avoid an overdose.

Analysts predict that opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. will hit the 500,000 mark by the year 2025. However, DBS for opioid addiction remains in its very early development stages, and won’t be available as an option to treat opioid addiction until that same year.

How Risky are Brain Implants for Opioid Addiction?

While DBS may be effective at rewiring the brain to treat addiction, implanting the device in the brain requires major invasive surgery, and offers a 1% chance for severe complications. The procedure involves having surgeons make a one-inch incision in the scalp and drilling a dime-sized hole in the skull for the implant. Previous studies show that DBS can increase the risk for serious infections and complications that affect cognition, behavior, and emotional health.

Scientists say that DBS for opioid addiction may be an ideal last-resort treatment for people who have tried all other treatment methods, yet continue to struggle with addiction. Opioid addicts who choose DBS may face several potential complications and a longer recovery than those who opt for safer, less risky treatments.

Choosing the Safest Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Many of today’s available opioid addiction treatments are safe and effective, and can be customized for each patient based on his or her health status, treatment preferences, and history with addiction. Medical detox and medication-assisted treatment are non-invasive treatments that carry little to no risk for complications compared to DBS. Both detox methods use medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to eliminate opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings — allowing patients to recover more comfortably.

At drug rehab centers, psychological addiction is treated using cognitive-behavioral therapy, group counseling, and other therapies that teach you how to overcome addictive tendencies. These therapies help you identify, manage, and overcome triggers so you can navigate everyday life without falling prey to urges and cravings. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends joining a 90-day recovery program for the best outcome, and to up your chances of achieving a healthy, addiction-free future.

If you or someone you love needs help fighting opioid addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?). We’ll discuss all your available treatment options, and help you find the nearest opiate detox center ready to guide you safely toward lifelong sobriety.