Tobacco use disorder (TUD) is characterized by the presence of an attentional bias (AB) towards smoking-related stimuli. We investigated whether combining an AB modification paradigm (ABM) with transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) applied over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) reduces the AB towards smoking-related stimuli, as well as craving level and impulsive choices.
In a sham-controlled, crossover preliminary study, 19 subjects with TUD received two stimulation arms: 1) active tACS (10 Hz, 2 mA, 30 min) combined with ABM and 2) sham tACS combined with ABM, in a randomized order, separated by one week. AB towards smoking cues during passive observation of smoking and neutral cues was assessed with an eye-tracking device and reactions times at a visual-probe task. Craving level was measured with the Questionnaire of Smoking Urges. Impulsive choices were assessed with the delay discounting task.
Active tACS combined with ABM reduced the amount of time spent looking at smoking-related pictures (p = 0.03), prevented the increase of self-reported desire to smoke (p = 0.026), and reduced the proportion of impulsive choices (p = 0.049), compared to sham tACS combined with ABM. No significant effects were reported on other craving dimensions and on AB based on reaction times.
These preliminary findings suggest that combining tACS with ABM may help smokers who wish to quit by reducing the desire to smoke, attention to smoking-cues, and impulsive decision-making.