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A controversial surgical procedure being studied in China attempts to cure addiction by destroying parts of the brain’s “pleasure centers,” Time.com 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 Time.com.


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