Traditional methods of substance abuse and addiction treatment typically include a mixture of psychotherapy, group counseling, medication, and experiential therapies like meditation, art therapy, and more. However, recent advances in technology have led to new types of addiction treatment, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy that directly target areas of the brain.

TMS is a non-invasive treatment that is showing promise alongside traditional therapies or as an alternative. Typically used as a next resort when medications or psychotherapies are not successful, TMS uses magnetic stimulation to help reduce cravings and boost areas of the brain that are responsible for mood.

While more research needs to be done to determine the full efficacy of TMS therapy, it is showing positive results so far. This article provides information about what TMS is and how it can help with addiction.

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive outpatient procedure that uses magnetic resonance to target specific areas of the brain. Typically used to treat depression, TMS involves the stimulation of nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex using magnetic field pulses and electrical currents. The procedure is fairly simple and can be done as a walk-in procedure — unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), where patients are put under anesthetic.

While TMS has shown promise for depression, it is often used as a last resort when other measures haven’t worked. Research is still ongoing into the efficacy of this treatment, but it is also emerging as a potential therapy for substance abuse and addiction.

However, TMS is not an immediate treatment as it requires multiple repetitions to invoke gradual changes in the brain. Patients normally receive a TMS procedure for thirty minutes at a time, five days a week for six to eight weeks. Due to the need for these repetitive procedures, it is sometimes referred to as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS.

Along with depression, some of the other conditions that TMS is used for include:

  • Anxiety
  • Alcoholism
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Memory loss

How It Works

TMS works by targeting certain areas of the brain that are responsible for things like mood control, pain, and cravings. The patient is fitted with an electromagnetic device on their head, and the stimulation from the coil activates those parts of the brain that are underperforming. For example, it is believed that the prefrontal cortex areas of the brain in people with depression are not as active as they should be. TMS thus stimulates those areas to give them a “boost.”

In terms of strength and frequency, this is usually determined by the person’s motor control threshold. As the doctor performs the therapy, they monitor a person’s twitches and adjust the frequency accordingly.

Since the procedure is non-invasive and doesn’t require an anesthetic, patients can safely drive themselves home afterward or return to work. However, while TMS is generally safe, like all procedures, there may be cases where it should not be performed. It is best to get a full assessment from a qualified doctor and let them know your full history before you undergo this kind of treatment.

What Happens During a TMS Procedure?

During a TMS procedure, magnetic pulses will be administered to the person’s brain. Therefore, patients are advised to remove magnetic-sensitive items such as jewelry and credit cards before they begin the procedure.

It is also advised that patients wear earplugs because TMS creates loud clicking noises with each pulse, similar to an MRI machine. TMS is also administered with the patient sitting up. Measurements will be made to the person’s head to ensure that the coil is positioned properly and then it is suspended over their scalp.

Once the TMS coil is properly fitted, the doctor will monitor the patient’s motor threshold by administering several quick pulses. The threshold will be determined by whether the pulse makes the patient’s thumb twitch. These twitch assessments enable the doctor to determine what level of frequency is needed to stimulate their brain cells.

TMS Side Effects

TMS produces very few side effects. However, the ones that can occasionally occur include:

  • Headache
  • Twitching of the face
  • Scalp discomfort
  • Short-term hearing impairment
  • Risk of seizures (though these are rare)

Benefits of TMS Therapies

TMS can be a beneficial treatment, especially when other therapies have failed. Some of the key benefits of TMS include:

  • Provides an alternative to other therapies
  • Is safe and non-invasive
  • It can be used to relieve symptoms of various physical and mental health conditions
  • Produces very few side effects

How TMS Helps Addiction

TMS is a fairly new treatment, but it is showing promise for treating individuals with addiction, particularly those with co-occurring conditions. In cases where clients are suffering from severe depressive symptoms alongside their substance abuse, TMS can be a potential therapy. It is also sometimes used when depression is a side effect of substance withdrawal.

TMS is also showing positive signs when it comes to managing a person’s cravings. While the exact cause of this is unknown, some studies show that people who undergo TMS therapy may be better able to heal their addictive symptoms.

While the outcomes so far are promising, more research is needed, and clients shouldn’t look to TMS as their one and only treatment. So far, though, TMS is showing positive results for treating the following conditions.


TMS calms certain areas of the brain, and it has shown to be effective at treating cravings for alcohol. If someone is undergoing alcohol detox, TMS can thus improve their chances of full recovery by helping to abate some of their cravings. TMS treatments may also reduce the risk of relapse.

Meth Addiction

TMS is also showing potential when it comes to treating methamphetamine addiction. A double-blind, randomized study conducted by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found a significant decrease in withdrawal symptoms and cravings in people who had ten days of TMS treatment. The study also showed that TMS could be an effective tool for managing withdrawal symptoms.


Research is also showing promise when it comes to minimizing and reducing cravings in individuals with cocaine addiction. For example, some studies are showing reduced symptoms of cocaine cravings after one month of therapy. TMS is also showing potential when it comes to increasing dopamine in the brain, which is particular to people with cocaine addiction. While research is ongoing, TMS can improve symptoms and create long-lasting effects in some cases.


As mentioned, TMS is most commonly used as a treatment for depression, particularly when anti-depressant medications haven’t been successful. It can take a few weeks before patients notice any improvement in their symptoms, but they can gradually fade over the course of multiple treatments.


Similar to depression, TMS is sometimes used for treating anxiety when other treatments like anti-anxiety drugs haven’t worked. While TMS won’t completely get rid of anxiety, it can reduce symptoms and improve the lives of people struggling with the condition.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

TMS may also be effective at treating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Like depression and anxiety, TMS is sometimes recommended in cases where medication or psychotherapy haven’t been fully successful. According to some studies, people with OCD often have increased activity within the prefrontal cortex and striatum. TMS can thus inhibit or slow down activity in this part of the brain and reduce symptoms.

Costs of a TMS Therapist

Transcranial magnetic therapy can be expensive and run as much as $6,000 to $12,000 per course of treatment. These costs may be covered by your insurance provider; however, this will all depend on your medical history. Depending on their guidelines, you may be required to try several different antidepressants before you can receive coverage for TMS therapy. Alternatively, if you’ve experienced bad reactions or not responded well to antidepressants, you might be eligible for coverage. TMS is also covered by Medicare.


If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Key Sources

Bolloni, C., Badas, P., Corona, G., and Diana, M. (2018). Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of cocaine addiction: evidence to date. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 9, 11–21.

Mohammad, A. New Brain Stimulation Therapy Helps Treat Drug And Alcohol Addiction.

Shubin, J., Segal, R., Smith, M., and Robinson, L. (2021). Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy.

Medical Disclaimer

At, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

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