Would a Brain Implant Help with Heroin Addiction?

Would a Brain Implant Help with Heroin Addiction?

Over the past decade, the brain disease model of addiction has been at the forefront of scientific research. Yet until now, this notion has done little in the way of impacting addiction treatment directly – treatment has continued to rely on behavioral techniques and medications that have worked independently of neuroscientific studies. But recently, scientists have begun exploring the effects of a brain implant for heroin addiction — and it just may be the future of addiction treatment.

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Addiction as a Brain Disease

Neuroscientists have long investigated the impact of chronic substance use on the brain. Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have discovered that certain brain regions — particularly the brain’s reward network — undergo structural changes when repeatedly exposed to addictive chemicals.1 The director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow, has declared that addiction is fundamentally a brain disease.

The brain disease model of addiction explains much of the behaviors and symptoms of people with substance use disorders. Changes in reward network processing may impact:

This model of addiction as a brain disease has permeated the public sphere and has helped people understand that addiction is no choice. But until recently, it has had little impact on improving drug and alcohol treatment.

Using a Brain Implant for Heroin Addiction to Help People Recover

A brain implant for heroin addiction targets the regions of the brain affected by substance use directly. The theory of this advanced technology is simple. By implanting an electrode deep within the brain, specifically in the regions where drug use has negatively impacted functioning, scientists can directly stimulate brain cells that have been damaged by substance use.

The Effects of Neurostimulation

In practice, stimulating these brain cells can help a person with a substance use disorder feel “normal” again. When someone who has been using heroin for months or years first achieves sobriety, they often find it extremely difficult to enjoy their day-to-day lives. They experience a host of negative symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or recreational activities
  • Boredom
  • Fatigue

Through deep brain stimulation, many of these symptoms can be alleviated with the literal flick of a switch.2

How these brain implants function in the real world is still debatable. In some trials, the researchers control the stimulation level — collaborating with their patients to see if the stimulation needs to be turned up or if they can begin to wean off the stimulating effects.

Most of the patients who have received a brain implant for heroin addiction are quite pleased with the results – but it still isn’t a surefire way of producing lasting recovery. Relapse has still occurred, and the implants aren’t a miracle cure for all of the symptoms that people in early recovery experience.3 Still, the results are promising, and it may be the future of cutting-edge addiction treatment.

When Will a Brain Implant for Heroin Addiction be Available?

Research on brain implants for heroin addiction is still in its infancy. There’s no way to be sure when they will be available to the public or if they will ever become an FDA-approved treatment for heroin addiction at all. For now, brain implants are a tantalizing, futuristic technology that provides hope for the future of addiction treatment.

Heroin Rehab in Arizona

Fortunately, you don’t need to undergo neurosurgery to recover from addiction. At Desert Cove Recovery’s heroin rehab in Arizona, the best evidence-based practices to help people recover from addiction are already helping people break free from addiction and achieve lasting recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to our team to learn more about how heroin rehab in Arizona can help you recover. Anyone can beat addiction — provided they get the help they need from trained addiction professionals.



[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2009110

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6034717/

[3] https://harpers.org/archive/2022/09/can-a-brain-implant-treat-drug-addiction-neurostimulation/