By On June 12th, 2006

Predicting Who is Likely to Relapse?

Investigators supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have released the results of a fascinating study on addiction and brain functions which could lead to a method of diagnosing which recovering people are most likely to relapse.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists of the University of California, San Diego were able to identify a pattern of brain activity in 46 methamphetamine-abusing men. When each man had been off of drugs for about four weeks he was given two psychological tests; one where he was instructed to perform a simple task and one where he was required to make a decision. One year later, the participants were reinterviewed to determine which ones had relapsed into practicing addiction. The data showed that most of those men who relapsed had shown activity in a certain region of the brain during the decision making test, while most of those men who did not relapse had shown activity in a different part of the brain during the same test. The results seem to suggest that the decision making capacity works differently in men more likely to relapse, a factor that can be diagnosed before treatment even begins.

The leader of the study, Dr. Martin Paulus: “The most striking aspect of this result is that the fMRI pattern has 90 percent accuracy in predicting outcome. The differences in brain activity are pronounced, with little overlap.” Paulus believes that the potential uses of this methodology are promising in methamphetamine-abuse treatment settings, allowing treatment professionals to allocate more intensive care to those patients who may need it the most.

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