Individuals with substance use and addictive disorders often display greater risk-taking behaviour, higher impulsivity, and altered reward processing compared to individuals without these disorders. While it is not known whether cognitive biases precede or result from addictive behaviour, they likely influence addiction-related decision-making, and may facilitate pathological behaviour. There is evidence that cognitive functions—including those shown to be altered in substance use and addictive disorders—can be influenced by neuromodulation techniques (specifically, transcranial direct current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation). Much of this work has been conducted in healthy populations, however, making it unclear whether these methods can be used effectively to modulate cognitive functioning in individuals with substance use and addictive disorders. The purpose of the current review is to shed light on the potential effectiveness and feasibility of neuromodulation as a means to improve cognitive deficits in substance use disorders.
The review will identify and evaluate studies that have examined the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on cognitive task performance in individuals with chronic substance use or dependence. Relevant studies will be identified through searches in PubMed, PsycINFO, Scopus, and Embase, and narrative review will be used to explore evidence that these techniques can be used successfully to modulate cognitive performance in populations exhibiting addictive behaviour. Assessing individual cognitive domains in turn (e.g. risk-taking, impulsivity, attention), we will critically evaluate the validity and reliability of relevant studies and draw conclusions about the strength of evidence for effective use of neuromodulation in that domain. This protocol is not yet registered with PROSPERO.
To determine whether neuromodulation holds promise as an effective treatment for neurocognitive deficits in substance use and addictive disorders, it is essential to look carefully at previous studies using this approach in addiction samples. This review will provide an objective and informative description of what is currently known about the efficacy of these techniques, shed light on the feasibility and potential challenges of using neuromodulation in individuals who exhibit addictive behaviour, and identify the most valuable next steps for future research.