A randomized controlled trial of targeted prefrontal cortex modulation with tDCS in patients with alcohol dependence

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Nov;17(11):1793-803. doi: 10.1017/S1461145714000984. Epub 2014 Jul 10.


Preliminary small studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) reduces craving in alcoholic subjects. It is unclear whether tDCS also leads to changes in clinically meaningful outcomes for alcohol dependence in a properly powered phase II randomized clinical trial. We aimed to investigate whether repetitive tDCS changes the risk of alcohol use relapse in severe alcoholics from outpatient services. Thirty-five subjects were randomized to receive active bilateral [left cathodal/right anodal over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC)] repetitive (five consecutive days) tDCS (2 mA, 35 cm2, two times daily stimulation for 13 min with a 20-min interval) or sham-tDCS. There were two dropouts before treatment. From 33 alcoholic subjects, 17 (mean age 45.5±8.9 s.d., 16 males) were randomized to sham and 16 (44±7.8 s.d., 16 males) to real tDCS treatment. By the end of the six months of follow-up, two subjects treated with sham (11.8%) and eight treated with real tDCS (50%) were still alcohol-abstinent [p=0.02, Long-rank (Mantel-Cox) Test, HR=0.35 (95% CI, 0.14-0.85)]. No differences with regard to changes on scores of craving, frontal function, global mental status, depressive or anxiety symptoms were observed between groups. However, subjects from the tDCS group improved with regard to their overall perception of quality of life (p=0.02), and increased their scores in the environment domain (p=0.04) after treatment. Bilateral tDCS over dlPFC reduces relapse probability in severe alcoholic subjects and results in improved perception of quality of life.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*
  • Treatment Outcome