The first brain imaging study to evaluate the long-term outcomes of former drug addicts has revealed that brain dysfunction is still sustained even after at least three years of abstinence from heroin.
Although brain abnormalities in individuals who are currently addicted to the drug or who are newly abstinent have been well documented, this is the first known trial to look into brain function after multi-year abstinence.
In order to investigate whether the effects are still present after several years of abstinence, the authors conduction a cross-sectional study where MRIs were collected from former addicts who had been clean for at least three years and then compared it to the same number of control participants who have never had a drug addiction.
The MRI analysis showed that compared to the control participants, the former heroin addicts had significant increases in functional connectivity which is what’s associated with habit formation. A weaker functional connectivity was also observed which is associated with reward precessing. When speaking about the findings, the authors commented:
“The study suggests that intense cravings for drugs may be triggered in the presence of stressors or other environmental cues in individuals who have successfully remained abstinent for long periods of time. The risk of relapse to drug-seeking behaviour may therefore be long-lasting and difficult to eliminate in heroin abusers.”
It is hoped that the findings of this study will help to aid the development of effective treatments and rehabilitation strategies for those who are suffering from drug addiction.
If you think that you or someone you know could have a drug addiction, please feel free to visit our Drug Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.