Measuring brain activity through neuroimaging can help predict who is likely to have an easier time getting off drugs and alcohol, and who will need extra help, according to new research from Indiana University.
“We can also see how brain activity changes as people recover from their addictions,” said Joshua Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.
Because relapses occur so frequently, there is a need for improved methods of treatment and relapse prevention, he said.
Brown noted that one potential cause for relapse is deficient self-regulatory control over behavior and decision-making. This lack of self-regulatory ability in people who are substance dependent has been associated with dysfunction of a mesolimbic-frontal brain network, according to Brown.
Reduced activity within this self-regulatory brain network has been implicated in relapses, but the specific relationship between this network, self-regulatory ability and recovery is yet to be determined, he added.
The new study explores neurophysiological and cognitive indicators of self-regulatory ability in a group of substance dependent individuals during their first three months of addiction treatment.
Researchers tested the participants’ risk-taking inclinations through what is called a Balloon Analog Risk Task, a game in which the participants can decide whether to add increasing amounts of air to a balloon, gaining rewards until it pops.
Those who took greater risks were shown to have reduced brain activity, the researcher noted, while those who took less risk showed greater brain activity.
After three months, those people who were successful in treatment also demonstrated a pattern of brain activation that coincided with the risk level of cues during the balloon task.
In individuals who relapsed, risk-related activation was limited to certain brain regions, possibly signaling the anticipated reward rather than the risk of negative outcome, he adds.
Source: Indiana University