People With Substance Use Disorder Have Similar Brain Networks

There’s a shared brain network that is common to people suffering from the disorder of substance abuse, according to a study released on the same day in Nature Mental Health Trusted Source.

Dr. Adam Bisaga, Medical Director of Ophelia and a professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at Columbia University, pointed out the ways in which the functioning of the brain in a person who has an addiction may be altered.

“When we examine brain function in a person who is addicted, we see unusually low or high activity in the brain centers and circuits responsible for pleasure, learning and memory, and motivation to perform and inhibit certain behaviors,” Bisaga, who was not part of the study, said. “As the result of these changes those suffering from Substance Use Disorders have intense reactions to specific external factors, such as walking through the liquor stores, as well as to inner experiences, for example, emotions of anger or sadness. As a result, they feel strong urges to take the substance at hand and can’t think about it.”

What did the study find

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital investigated the results of more than 100 research studies on addiction and found abnormal patterns in addiction disorders that are linked to a specific brain network.

The study’s findings are in line with previous research that has looked at neuroimaging issues in addiction disorders. Studies that have been reviewed in meta-review have tried to determine the connection of brain abnormalities with similar regions and not the same brain network.

Researchers were able to test whether various types of neuroimaging problems were linked to a brain network that was common. The results showed a network that was similar across addiction disorders and imaging techniques.

The findings point to the possibility of a brain circuit that could be utilized to control neurostimulation therapies.

“It was surprising to see that brain imaging abnormalities across so many different substances of abuse map to the same brain circuit,” Dr. Michael Fox, MD PhD, who is a co-author of the paper and founder director of the Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained to Healthline. “This suggests that the same brain circuit might be a therapeutic target for treating many different types of addiction.”

Fox said: “The next step in terms of research will be targeting this brain circuit with brain stimulation interventions to see if addiction improves.”

Bisaga said that the study differs from others in that it concentrated on brain networks rather than on brain regions.

“The study showed that the pathologies in the brain seen in all forms of addiction are linked into a common structure. The results are in line with previous studies that have shown the disease seen in people suffering from addiction is focused on brain networks as well as regions that are involved in controlling craving or desire for the drug or substance, reward-related attention, emotions and risky decisions,” Bisaga said. “Understanding the networks involved can help develop targeted treatment to alter the abnormalities.”

Bisaga explained how brain changes could make the treatment of dependence difficult.

“Their ability to resist these intense urges is limited, even though they well know that using drugs can have catastrophic consequences,” Bisaga explained. “These hyperbolic responses last for a long period of time, even among those who could abstain from using drugs and, as a result, many people relapse repeatedly. These abnormal reactions and behavior is central to addiction-related pathologies.”

What happens to the mind when addicted?

Although addiction can affect physical and mental health, it’s a condition which is affecting the brain.

“Addiction is a complex problem that can involve an interplay of many factors, biologic, genetic factors though not always, emotional and behavioral triggers,” said Dr. Louise Stanger, LCSW, CSAT-1, CDWF. “Scientists have determined that addiction is a brain disease.”

Substance abuse generally affects regions like the basal Ganglia and also the reward centers of the brain and dopamine, a neurotransmitter, Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?” Podcast, explained to Healthline.

In other words, the use of substances increases the areas that feel “rewarding.”

“The longer and more consistently a person uses, their brain will make less of its own dopamine,” Saltz explained. “This means it will take more drug use to get the same rewards over time.”

In addition, the brain can react less dopamine to other non-drug-related “rewards.” Plus, being drug-free can be an unpleasant physical experience, and the brain is likely to crave more dopamine and, therefore, more drugs. This is the vicious cycle of addiction, Saltz explained.

The study reveals that there’s a common brain circuit that is connected to addiction. Understanding the brain circuitry involved in substance abuse issues is the initial step in managing them.

“It is generally thought that the neurocircuitry involved is that associated with the dopamine reward neurocircuitry,” Saltz said. Saltz. “That being said, once that area is affected, and dopamine is affected it is likely other neurotransmitters also become involved.”

Predisposition genetic to addiction

It is possible that one can be predisposed genetically to addiction, and there are a variety of circumstances that increase the chances of the development of addiction.

“Addiction does run in families and there does appear to be a biological genetic predisposition to addiction, which means it is likely something about the neurocircuitry of those people that makes them more susceptible to developing the cycle of addiction once they start any drug use,” Saltz explained.

Incredibly, the first research conducted by a Trusted source on twins attempted to understand why one twin might be addicted while the other one would not, despite having the same genetic basis. Studies showed that environment and lifestyle are also a factor.

“What’s important is doing a comprehensive bio-psych-social history,” Stanger said. Stanger. “This includes a full medical background as well as family histories of addiction and Process disorders (food sexual, gambling and sex online, religion and eating disorders and more.) Traumas of sudden death, relationships issues, divorces, marriages and financial challenges. problems, religious issues and gender, as well as the use and exposure to psychoactive substances and mental health issues.”

The age at which you can begin using Quantity and frequency are equally important in determining the negative consequences that were incurred (school or legal, medical or job-related) due to the use of alcohol and other substances, Stanger noted.

A resource to assist in the treatment of addiction

As easy or difficult as it may sound, seek assistance, whether at work, your school counselor, or any other source of service. Help is readily accessible, Stanger recommends.

There are a variety of options available for self-help groups, such as self-help groups that help those who are struggling with addiction, as well as support family groups, professional associations like The American Society of Addiction Medicine, NASW, Psychology, Marriage and Family Counselors and national hotlines like Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Teen Line.


A new study reveals the existence of a common brain network in people who suffer from drug use disorders.

The brain circuitry of people who have an addiction is linked to the dopamine reward neural circuitry.

Genetics is also a factor when it comes to addiction. Studies show that certain individuals tend to suffer from problems with substance abuse more than others.


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