Deep brain stimulation for substance use disorders? An exploratory qualitative study of perspectives of people currently in treatment

Erika Versalovic*, Eran Klein, Sara Goering, Quyen Ngo, Kate Gliske, Marion Boulicault, Laura Specker-Sullivan, Mark Thomas, Alik S. Widge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Objective: Although previous studies have discussed the promise of deep brain stimulation (DBS) as a possible treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) and collected researcher perspectives on possible ethical issues surrounding it, none have consulted people with SUDs themselves. We addressed this gap by interviewing people with SUDs.

Methods: Participants viewed a short video introducing DBS, followed by a 1.5-hour semistructured interview on their experiences with SUDs and their perspective on DBS as a possible treatment option. Interviews were analyzed by multiple coders who iteratively identified salient themes.

Results: We interviewed 20 people in 12-step–based, inpatient treatment programs (10 [50%] White/Caucasian, 7 Black/African American [35%], 2 Asian [10%], 1 Hispanic/Latino [5%], and 1 [5%] Alaska Native/American Indian; 9 women [45%], 11 men [55%]). Interviewees described a variety of barriers they currently faced through the course of their disease that mirrored barriers often associated with DBS (stigma, invasiveness, maintenance burdens, privacy risks) and thus made them more open to the possibility of DBS as a future treatment option.

Conclusions: Individuals with SUDs gave relatively less weight to surgical risks and clinical burdens associated with DBS than previous surveys of provider attitudes anticipated. These differences derived largely from their experiences living with an often-fatal disease and encountering limitations of current treatment options. These findings support the study of DBS as a treatment option for SUDs, with extensive input from people with SUDs and advocates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e246-e54
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Addiction Medicine
Issue number4
Early online date31 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • deep brain stimulation
  • substance use disorders
  • qualitative
  • neural technology
  • neuroethics


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