Substance Abuse Tied to Stimulation in the Brain
Understanding what leads one person to become addicted to substances while the next person can take them or leave them is something health professionals have studied for decades. Now, research is leading to brain activity in relation to who becomes snared in the addiction trap.
In the first of a kind study, researchers at the Oregon Research Institute are looking at the areas of the brain that are responsible for the reward response. Using fMRI technology, researchers are able to measure how active the brain becomes on substances, including food. What they’ve found is that people who show an elevated level of activity in these areas of the brain when introduced to food or drugs are at greater risk for eating disorders or substance addiction.
Employing more than 150 adolescent test subjects, the researchers measured the neural response of the individuals as well as their body fat percentages. The same test subjects were put through the same routine a year later. They exposed the subjects to a monetary reward, which triggers a neural response. What they found was that the more a person uses a psychoactive substance, their response to monetary reward decreases.
The study suggests that the subjects that are entwined in an addiction are less likely to derive a reward response from other parts of life, such as hobbies, relationships, school or social activities. Health professionals say this research is important because it is the first time atypical responsitivity of reward circuitry in the brain has been studied in such a way. The youths with a history of substance abuse did not show striatal responses to monetary rewards.
Around 35 percent of alcoholics and drug users have some type of eating disorder. The more that is known about how the brain reacts to these substances can lead to a better understanding of how to treat these individuals.