Reducing craving and consumption in individuals with drug addiction, obesity or overeating through neuromodulation intervention: a systematic review and meta-analysis of its follow-up effects

Addiction. 2022 May;117(5):1242-1255. doi: 10.1111/add.15686. Epub 2021 Oct 21.


Background and aims: Non-invasive brain stimulation has shown potential in clinical applications aiming at reducing craving and consumption levels in individuals with drug addiction or overeating behaviour. However, it is unclear whether these intervention effects are maintained over time. This study aimed to measure the immediate, short- and long-term effects of excitatory transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) targeting at dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in people with drug addiction or overeating.

Methods: A systematic review and random effects meta-analysis. We included 20 articles (total of 22 studies using randomized controlled trials: 3 alcohol dependence, 3 drug dependence, 12 smoking, 4 overeating; total: 720 participants) from January 2000 to June 2020, which reported at least one follow-up assessment of craving, consumption or abstinence levels after the intervention. We compared effects of active versus sham stimulation immediately after the intervention and at the last follow-up assessment, as compared with baseline.

Results: Excitatory neuromodulation of dlPFC activity reduced craving and consumption immediately after the intervention (craving: g = 0.734, CI = 0.447-1.021, P < 0.001; consumption: g = 0.527, CI = 0.309-0.745; P < 0.001), as well as during short-, mid- and long-term abstinence (craving: g = 0.677, CI = 0.440-0.914, P < 0.001; consumption: g = 0.445, CI = 0.245-0.645, P < 0.001; abstinence levels: g = 0.698, CI = 0.433-0.963, P < 0.001; average time of follow-up: 84 ± 83 days after last stimulation). Additional analysis demonstrated that the intervention effects were sustained in all populations studied (food, nicotine, alcohol or drug abuse) and with both stimulation techniques used (rTMS, tDCS). Interventions targeting at the left (vs right) hemisphere may be more effective.

Conclusions: Excitatory neuromodulation targeting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex appears to lead to a sustained reduction of craving and consumption in individuals with addiction or overeating behaviour.

Keywords: Addiction; brain stimulation; dlPFC; eating disorders; neuromodulation; rTMS; tDCS.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Craving / physiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / therapy
  • Obesity
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation* / methods