A novel addiction therapy: The real-time fMRI
Neuroscience has taught us that addiction rewires the brain. In its worst cases, far from being a choice, we know that victims of substance abuse disorder are therefore limited in their ability to break their addiction. The reason for this is because study after study has shown that, due to their disorder, victims exhibit lower activity in the parts of the brain associated with impulse control. To address this, our lab is developing a treatment that allows patients to visualize their brain activity—and cravings—in real-time. Patients will thus be able to confront their addiction in an unprecedented way. By helping patients develop strategies to reduce cravings, this tailored treatment will give them the cognitive tools necessary to break their addiction.
How does rt-fMRI work?
Imagine a patient being able to see their cravings on-screen as a graphic that varies according to the strength of the craving—like a thermometer or speedometer. With this visual, the patient can then practice impulse control. The patient’s strategies often include increasing activity in suppression networks by concentrating on a substance’s financial impact or the relationships affected by such abuse.
After several “mental workout” sessions, we hope patients will have the tools necessary to fight cravings when they arise out in the real world. This type of real-time functioning magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI) has been used to manage pain, regulate emotion, and improve working memory.