Findings of a recent brain-imaging study showed different activity levels in the brain of cocaine drug users, especially in regions that monitor emotions and behaviors. The findings further indicated that such these differences may trigger a person’s vulnerability to drug addiction and that drug addiction rehab targeting these changes may help build a person’s resistance to drugs.
This brain imaging study was conducted at the Brookhaven National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy and a report on its findings was published online the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to Rita Goldstein, the lead author of the study, their research is the first to closely study at two groups of individuals who were matched for interest and performance. “Many studies have found decreased brain activity in drug-addicted individuals relative to healthy control subjects during psychological tests, but it’s never been clear if these differences were due to varying levels of interest or ability between the two groups,” she said.
Goldstein explained that such differences in brain activity level may either potential causes or consequences of drug addiction. But regardless, she stressed that brain regions associated with emotions and behavior should be made targets for drug addiction treatment. She further noted that such treatment should seek to improve brain function and self-regulation.
For this research, Goldstein and her team studied the brain images of 17 cocaine users and 17 healthy subjects while performing a series of tasks. All subjects were awarded monetary incentives for accurate performances in the tasks, which involved matching colored buttons with a font color of words presented to them on screen.
Both groups performed fairly well on the same test but magnetic resonance imaging or MRI technology used by the researchers showed certain differences in between the brain activity of the cocaine users and the healthy participants.
The three main differences observed by the researchers were: (1) cocaine users registered lower activity in one part of anterior cingulate cortex of the brain which is connected to behavior, (2) cocaine users registered lower activity level in another portion of the anterior cingulate cortex, this one responsible for suppressing emotion, and (3) the functions of the emotion monitoring and behavior monitoring regions of the brain were interconnected among the healthy subjects but not among the cocaine users.
Goldstein explained that these findings indicated the importance of improving the level of activity in regions of the brain connected to behavior and monitoring. To this end, she suggested using a combination of pharmacological and behavioral approaches aimed at increasing motivation and monitoring.
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