Could a brain implant cure addiction?

A neurosurgeon in New Zealand is pioneering a new technique that promises to rid craving for alcohol and drugs  – And bizarrely enough allows you to drink again?

The idea behind the device is that some people with addiction issues maybe experiencing “Hypofrontality’ which in a nut-shell is linked to impulse control.  So when someone experiences a craving they will act out on it rather than sit with the sensation – such as eating, drug use, drinking or sex.

You may recall from a previous blog of mine that I wrote about “executive function” and cocaine abuse. Executive function can be impaired through using cocaine repeatedly however it seems to have more effect on some people rather than others.  You might recall the tests I referred to in the article showed that only 30% of the cocaine chronic users (addicts) in the test who identified as having cognitive impairment and impairment in their executive function. Which I personally think that is quite interesting as impairment of executive function diminishes one’s self reliance and self-efficacy – Sounds familiar?  Sounds pretty much like 99% of people in treatment, but yet only around 30% show clear clinical signs of actually having impaired impulse control.

This of course plays a part in who is eligible for a brain implant, but also tells a little bit about the nature of addiction and yes indeed, different types of addictionBut I think I’ll save that for another blog.

People are selected for treatment based on how they react to an external device. They have to wear an external device on their head which sends impulses down into the brain areas associated with addiction. If a person responds well to the device then they are selected for treatment.


It is worth noting that the operation is HUGELY invasive currently, it is about as major as surgery can get.  People are only put forward if they are struggling immensely with their addiction and all other methods have failed.

The first step is that a device is inserted into your brain. A surgeon opens up the skull and surgically places a pulsing device between divide of the brain. This device has a wire attached to it which is installed across the side of your head, down through your neck and into your chest.  This unfortunately involves incredible  amount of surgery, inserting wires across the human body isn’t like laying underground cables, so the skin must be cut in order place the wire. This leaves a huge scar from the top of the head down to the chest.

The device inside your brain is then controlled externally by a device that uses blue-tooth technology to send pulses to the concerned areas which are stimulated electronically and provide relief from cravings.

Please bare in mind, that no matter how gruesome this might all sound, that the people selected for this type of procedure are probably going to die very shortly from alcoholism and are deemed to be “hopeless” cases.

I don’t know enough about the treatment to advocate it and it doesn’t work for everyone.  Not everyone drinks just because they have poor impulse control, they may find life very difficult to deal with and have untreated mental health issues.

Below is a video of a recent news article detailing more information about this:

What I find bizarre is that the gentleman who goes through with the procedure still has one or two pints a month? After all of that I’m really shocked that he’d bother ever drinking again.

I’m very fascinated by these technological advances in treating addiction, however as tests have shown this method is not yet effective for everyone.  I think  anything that can help treat addiction is welcomed.  I’ve been reading about prototypes of augmentation for quite sometime, some of the technology seems very promising as they have much better efficacy than pharmacology interventions – one of the major let downs of pharmacology is drug tolerance and side effects.

Would you fancy becoming a bit of cyborg to control your impulses?

More on the implants here.


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