Intermittent Theta Burst Stimulation in Veterans with Mild Alcohol Use Disorder

J Affect Disord. 2021 Oct 1;293:314-319. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.06.039. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Background: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is highly comorbid with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can complicate their treatment. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a promising treatment for these disorders, yet prior research often excluded AUD patients out of concern for safety or poorer outcomes. To this end, we revisited a prior study of intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) for PTSD, to evaluate whether mild AUD impacted safety and clinical outcomes.

Methods: Fifty veterans with PTSD (n=17, with comorbid AUD) received 10 days of sham-controlled iTBS, followed by 10 unblinded sessions. Stimulation was delivered at 80% of the motor threshold for 1800 pulses to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Safety, PTSD and depressive outcomes were evaluated with repeated measures analysis of variance, to examine the effects of time, treatment group and comorbid AUD.

Results: iTBS was safe, although AUD patients reported more adverse events, regardless of whether they received active or sham stimulation. Regarding clinical outcomes, patients with AUD who received active stimulation demonstrated a greater rate of improvement in depression symptoms than those without comorbid AUD. The presence of AUD did not impact PTSD symptom change.

Limitations: Limitations include a modest sample size and use of a categorical, rather than continuous, index of AUD diagnosis.

Conclusion: While these results require replication, they indicate that iTBS is likely safe in patients with mild comorbid AUD. We propose that comorbid AUD should not preclude clinical use of iTBS, and that iTBS should be further investigated as a novel treatment option for AUD.

Keywords: PTSD; alcohol use; depression; neurostimulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / therapy
  • Theta Rhythm
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Veterans*