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Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation in Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review of Scientific Literature

Lupi, Matteo MD; Martinotti, Giovanni MD, PhD; Santacroce, Rita MD; Cinosi, Eduardo MD; Carlucci, Maria PsyD; Marini, Stefano MD; Acciavatti, Tiziano MD; di Giannantonio, Massimo MD

doi: 10.1097/YCT.0000000000000401

Introduction New treatment options such as noninvasive brain stimulation have been recently explored in the field of substance use disorders (SUDs), including transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Objectives In light of this, we have performed a review of the scientific literature to assess efficacy and technical and methodological issues resulting from applying tDCS to the field of SUDs.

Methods Our analysis highlighted the following selection criteria: clinical studies on tDCS and SUDs (alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and nicotine). Study selection, data analysis, and reporting were conducted according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Exclusion criteria were as follows: clinical studies about tDCS among behavioral addiction; review and didactic articles; physiopathological studies; and case reports.

Results Eighteen scientific papers were selected out of 48 articles. Among these, 16 studied the efficacy of tDCS applied to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and 8 suggested the efficacy of tDCS in reducing substance craving.

Conclusions In light of these data, it is premature to conclude that tDCS over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is a very efficient technique in reducing craving. Small sample size, different stimulation protocols, and study duration were the main limitations. However, the efficacy of tDCS in treating SUDs requires further investigation.

From the Department of Neuroscience, Imaging and Clinical Sciences, University “G. D'Annunzio”, Chieti, Italy.

Received for publication July 26, 2016; accepted January 25, 2017.

Reprints: Matteo Lupi, MD, Department of Neuroscience and Imaging, University “G. D'Annunzio”, Via dei Vestini 33, 66100, Chieti, Italy (e-mail:

The authors have no conflicts of interest or financial disclosures to report.

All authors contributed to this review with equal efforts.

Copyright © 2017 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved