According to new research findings from a study conducted by the Radiological Society of North America, women who abuse stimulants are susceptible to experiencing critical and long term reduction in brain volume (known as atrophy), in addition to incurring changes which affect their emotional and decision-making abilities. These effects can still occur even after extended periods of abstinence from drug use. However, men who abuse stimulant drugs do not incur any significant changes in brain volume.
“We found that after an average of 13.5 months of abstinence, women who were previously dependent on stimulants had significantly less gray matter volume in several brain areas compared with healthy women,” says Dr Jony Tanabe, senior author of the study. Tanabe suggests the areas of the brain which are being impacted are vital for decision making, emotion, reward, processing, and habit formation, according to Healthline News.
In the study Tanabe and her colleagues set out to discover the differences between individuals who were previously dependent on stimulant drugs versus healthy individuals. For the study the team analyzed MRI exams of 127 males and females, 59 individuals out of the sample of 127 were previously addicted to cocaine, methamphetamines, and/or amphetamines for about 15.7 years on average, and 68 were healthy people.
Researchers from the study are still unsure of why the brain volume changes, Dr. Michael Regner, one of Tanabe’s colleagues is quoted by Healthline News,
“We do not know if the smaller gray matter volume was a result of stimulant dependence, or if the smaller gray matter differences contributed to the development of stimulant dependence. Since the brain consists of numerous cells and the spaces between cells, we do not know if some of the cells die, become smaller, or if the spaces between the cells becomes smaller.”
Despite not discovering what causes the brain volume to change, researchers did discover low grey matter volumes were in correlation with the individuals from the sample having the tendency to seek reward and novelty. According to findings from the study, lower brain volumes in women who had once been addicted to stimulants were linked with increased impulsiveness, behavioral approach to reward, and more severe drug use.