A new study conducted by the University of Colorado has found that women who’ve abused stimulant drugs such as meth or cocaine lose more grey matter and suffer the effects far longer than men who’ve abused the same substances.
The study, published in the journal Radiology, showed that the brain structures one uses in the process of learning reward mechanisms and executive control still exhibited incredible changes even long after the woman has given up the unhealthy habit.
Female subjects who had been clean for more than a year (13.5 months) when they underwent the brain scans that the researches used had results that showed they were still suffering the effects.
M.D. Jody Tanabe, senior author, professor of radiology from the University of Colorado, vice chair of Research and section chief for Neuroradiology, gave a statement informing that these women had not been addicted to stimulants for a very long time, but they still had a greatly diminished volume of gray matter in several brain regions, compared to women who had never abused stimulant drugs.
She went on to add that these brain areas are important for the decision making process, reward processing, emotional responses and habit formation.
Dr. Tanabe and her team started the project because they were interested in finding out how the brains of individuals who’ve previously abused stimulant drugs are different from those of healthy people who had never abused them. The researchers were interested in particular in finding out whether or not there were any gender differences, and if so, how the effects differed.
For their study, the experts looked at the structural brains of 127 subjects, both men and women. Out of all of them 59 subjects (31 men and 28 women) were previously addicted to cocaine, methamphetamine and / or amphetamines. The condition had to have lasted 15.7 years on average.
The other 68 (40 men and 28 women) subjects were a control group compiled of healthy people who had never experienced addiction. They were similar in age to the ones in the first group.
The research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the damage and found that women who had been previously addicted to stimulant drugs, but stayed clean for 13.5 months on average, still had a greatly diminished volume of gray matter in the frontal region, limbic region and temporal region of their brains.
Dr. Tanabe gave a statement informing that “While the women previously dependent on stimulants demonstrated widespread brain differences when compared to their healthy control counterparts, the men demonstrated no significant brain differences”.
The next step for the researchers was to examine how the diminished volume of gray matter related to the behavior that people adopted. The test results showed that the lower volumes in the frontal region, limbic region and temporal region of the brain were connected to an impulsive behavior inclined towards seeking out reward and novelty.
Dr. Tanabe and her team also pointed out that women start taking cocaine and amphetamine at a younger age than men, take larger amounts stimulant drugs, are much more likely to take more than one drug, and find it a lot more difficult than men to quit once they decide to leave the habit behind.
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