Surgery Destroys Parts of Brain’s “Pleasure Centers” in Attempt to Cure Addiction

A controversial surgical procedure being studied in China attempts to cure addiction by destroying parts of the brain’s “pleasure centers,” reports. The research is being conducted on alcoholics and people addicted to heroin.

The procedure risks permanently damaging a person’s ability to have longings and feel joy, the article notes.

The Chinese Ministry of Health banned the procedure in 2004. Some doctors were allowed to continue to perform the operation for research purposes. In a recent study published in the journal Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, researchers called the surgery “a feasible method for alleviating psychological dependence on opiate drugs.” They note more than half of the 60 patients in the study had lasting side effects. These included memory problems and loss of motivation. After five years, 47 percent of participants were still drug free.

That compares with a 30-40 percent rate of significant recovery with conventional addiction treatment, the news outlet states. Experts feel the small increase in success rates with the surgery is not worth the large risk.

Patients are awake during the procedure, to minimize the risk of destroying parts of the brain involved in movement, consciousness or sensation. A surgeon uses heat to destroy cells in small sections of the part of the brain containing large amounts of brain chemicals called dopamine and endogenous opioids, which are involved in desire and pleasure.

Experts say they are opposed to using the procedure to treat addiction. “To lesion this region that is thought to be involved in all types of motivation and pleasure risks crippling a human being,” Dr. Charles O’Brien, head of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania, told

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    March 18, 2016 at 4:41 PM

    “The Knick” season 2, ep. 5, brought me here. They are showing this procedure tried in the 1900 and I was wondering if it does work somehow. Now I wish I had not found out that they are still trying this 100 years later on poor people in China…It sounds ruthless and old.

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    Kerry Sabanty

    December 14, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    This sounds like the last thing I would personally do to live a sober life. After five years, 47 percent of participants were still drug free is not enough to sign me up for this depressing sounding program. Removing natural pleasure centers away for good sounds crazy to me and must be the last straw in the addicts life to keep them from dying. For me this surgery would most likely send me straight to the bar looking for my very small window a fake liquid joy. A sober life is impart to restore natural states of being and taking the pleasure centers away at this time of my life just seems rather cruel. I would imagine in the religious community this might be thought of a cheap way out of meditating and or praying your desires and pleasures away for ones own well being.

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    Mo Bronson, PhD, pharmacology

    December 13, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    This idea is absurd. Reminds me of the weight loss drug Acomplia (approved in Europe but not in the U.S.) that blocked cannabinoid receptors (cut down on the “munchies – lose weight”)that had to pulled from the market in Europe because side effects were severe depression and suicide.

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