Effects of Non-invasive Brain Stimulation on Stimulant Craving in Users of Cocaine, Amphetamine, or Methamphetamine: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Front Neurosci. 2019 Oct 18;13:1095. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.01095. eCollection 2019.


Dopamine system plays a pivotal role in specific kinds of substance use disorders (SUD, i. e., cocaine and methamphetamine use disorders). Many studies addressed whether dopamine-involved craving could be alleviated by non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques. Nevertheless, the outcomes were highly inconsistent and the stimulating parameters were highly variable. In the current study, we ran a meta-analysis to identify an overall effect size of NIBS and try to find stimulating parameters of special note. We primarily find 2,530 unduplicated studies in PubMed, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, PsycARTICLES, PsycINFO, and Google Scholar database involving "Cocaine"/"Amphetamine"/"Methamphetamine" binded with "TMS"/"tDCS"/"non-invasive stimulation" in either field. After visual screening, 26 studies remained. While 16 studies were further excluded due to the lack of data, invalid craving scoring or the absence of sham condition. At last, 16 units of analysis in 12 eligible studies were coded and forwarded to a random-effect analysis. The results showed a large positive main effect of stimulation (Hedge's g = 1.116, CI = [0.597, 1.634]). Further subgroup analysis found that only high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) could elicit a significant decrease in craving, while the outcome of low-frequency stimulation was relatively controversial. Moreover, univariate meta regression revealed that the number of pulses per session could impose negative moderation toward the intervention. No significant moderation effect was found in types of abuse, overall days of stimulation and other variables of stimulating protocol. In conclusion, this meta-analysis offered a persuasive evidence for the feasibility of using NIBS to remit substance addictive behavior directly based on dopamine system. We also give clear methodological guidance that researchers are expected to use high-frequency, sufficiently segmented rTMS to improve the efficacy in future treatments.

Keywords: addiction; craving; dopamine system; non-invasive brain stimulation; substance use disorders.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review