New York: Researchers have found that activity in decision-making brain regions of people who use recreational stimulants can predict who will discontinue their use and who will develop a drug use disorder.
The findings of the study, led by Martin Paulus of Laureate Institute of Brain Research in Oklahoma, suggested that an inability to learn from previous risky decisions in some people may predispose them to continue drug use despite the negative consequences.
“Our sample of recreational users offers a unique approach to studying addiction,” said first author Melanie Blair, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Jennifer Stewart of City University of New York.
“By finding differences between our groups prior to problematic use, our results suggest that certain brain patterns might be existing vulnerabilities that predispose an individual to addiction,” Blair added.
For the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, researchers used brain imaging to measure the activity of several brain regions involved in decision making in 144 young adults.
The study measured brain activity in young adults using recreational stimulants, including cocaine and the prescription amphetamines Adderall and Ritalin, and followed up three years later to determine the participants’ outcome.
During the brain scans, the participants performed a task requiring them to make risky or safe decisions. Although all participants in the study were experimenting with stimulants at the time, some showed a tendency for making riskier choices.
“Compared to individuals who stopped using, those who later developed problem use were more reactive to rewards and showed weaker activity in regions of the brain that are critical for decision making,” Blair said.
These participants had lower activity in a brain circuit that provides feedback on risky decisions, suggesting they might not be as good at adapting their behaviour-based on previous experiences, the researcher added.
Weaker brain activity in regions associated with decision making also predicted greater marijuana use in the future, they noted.