Our study is telling us, it’s not ‘this is your brain on drugs,’ it’s ‘this is the brain that does drugs.’”
The authors of this study suggest that vulnerability to drug use and addiction may, be due to brain differences that limit the ability to anticipate situations and detect/process feedback that suggests they need to stop responding in the same way in a given context.
College Age Students Who Occasionally Use Drugs
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School used fMRI to explore differences in the brains of college-aged students who only occasionally use stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and Adderall. They found “impaired neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning” and, according to this article by Janice Wood on PsychCentral, they “believe the differences represent an internal hard wiring that may make some people more prone to drug addiction later in life”.
Occasional drug users were characterized as having taken stimulants an average of 12 to 15 times. The “stimulant naïve” control group included students who had never taken stimulants. Occasional users had a much harder time inhibiting responses to a task in which they were instructed to press different buttons in response to different visual cues and not to stop pressing at all if a tone was heard along with a visual cue.
Wood reports that, “The brain images of the occasional users showed consistent patterns of diminished neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning and updating anticipation based on past trials” and quotes the lead author’s observation that:
It’s Not About Self Control
“We used to think that drug addicts just did not hold themselves back, but this work suggests that the root of this is an impaired ability to anticipate a situation and to detect trends in when they need to stop.”
Can The Brain Patterns Be Changed
The researchers now want to examine whether the brain activity patterns they observed are permanent or whether re-wiring is possible.
Do we treat the mental illness or the substance abuse?
As the treatment of substance abuse advances, identified risk factors allow us to predict with some certainty the potential for substance abuse disorders. Many young people who are entering substance abuse facilities today are also struggling with identified and often unidentified dual diagnosis problems.
This asks the question, do we treat the substance abuse or the mental illness component first, or at the same time? Clearly a treatment center needs to be expert at assessing and treating the dually diagnosed client for the best outcome to occur.
Balboa Horizons is an expert in the treatment of the dually diagnosed client.