Giving up alcohol or smoking could soon be much easier - by using a brain implant which stops cravings.

Scientists are trialling a pioneering technique which involves implanting a tiny programmable device into the brain.

The implant targets the part of the brain responsible for controlling cravings and also helps to reduce levels of stress, which can worsen addictions.

It uses cutting-edge neuro-stimulators designed to enable scientists to 'talk' to the brain through electrical stimulation.


Neurosurgeon Dirk De Ridder, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, inserted implants into the brains of six alcoholic patients who had tried every other type of non-surgical treatment. Since surgery, none of the patients has abused alcohol and two have also given up smoking.

The results suggest the implant could also help with obsessive compulsive disorder, which is controlled by the same part of the brain as addictions.

Previous trials in Germany used implants to fight alcoholism by targeting the reward centres of the brain but almost all of the participants relapsed.

Prof Dirk De Ridder said the surgery was unique because it targeted cravings - one of the three main reasons addicts relapse. The other two were stress and cues, such as walking past a bar or seeing a supermarket offer.

He said: "You can't do anything about cues, and you can treat stress but that probably isn't so efficient, so that's why we opted to go after cravings. But the target we are using overlaps with an area in the brain that also involves stress."

The professor added: "The main problem with current stimulators is that they are derived from pacemaker technology, and the heart is a relatively simple organ to stimulate, whereas the brain is somewhat more complex.

"That's why we've had to push the technology to create the bigger versatility - or enable more languages - that might improve the result.

"I've now got more languages with which to communicate with the brain, which hopefully should improve the outcome."


Prof De Ridder's research will be presented at a conference in Barcelona next year and could then be widened to include more patients from around the world.