The Neuroscience of Impulsivity and Addiction

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Sensation-seeking and substance abuse have long been linked. It is unclear whether changes in individual’s neuroanatomy who use drugs are due to abuse, a new study looks at the possible links and ramifications.

Looking at Impulsivity

Impulsive behaviors are part of everyone’s character. Some people consistently act on a whim while others take time to deeply consider all actions before taking next steps. A person who exhibits impulsive behavior is often connected to a predisposition for drug abuse. Adolescents who have experimented with recreational drugs are more likely to have lower levels of self-control. Genetics may also play a role in an individual’s desire for sensation-seeking behavior and substance abuse.

Role of Genetics

The role of genetics, brain activity and behavior is a very pertinent subject when discussing drug abuse. The job of pulling apart the ways the brain responds to recreational drug use and how genetics plays into it are important. Drug abuse is known to affect brain anatomy over time. Drug abuse is known to affect brain anatomy over time based on scans of individual’s brains taken over the course of addiction in a person’s life. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans were done to assess the role of drugs on a person’s brain and the results showed individuals with naturally impulsive character traits exhibited a thinner cortex (decreased gray matter) in brain regions associated with decision-making and self-control. Self-reports of impulsivity also went hand-in-hand with an increase in alcohol, caffeine and tobacco use.

The Findings

Normal variations in the brain for people in the general population were looked at so an understanding was built about the temperamental characteristics, health behaviors and other things including substance abuse. The key benefit of the findings is that individuals involved were healthy, non-addicted substance users. The differences in brain anatomy were therefore not thought to be a consequence of a history of abuse or mental illness. Reductions in cortical thickness could predict severity of ADHD symptoms, found in another study. Interpersonal differences in neuroanatomy is an area of research that requires some more time as it is relatively new. The goal is to look at areas of research which focus on investigation of anatomical changes and the potential influence on psychiatric well-being and negative health outcomes.

For individuals who struggle with impulsive behavioral traits, this may provide some solace that as the brain changes, the behavior will often follow. This does not mean there are not ways to help combat impulsive behavior but it provides an opportunity to guide further research into therapeutic techniques to further support those individuals to become more tuned into their natural tendencies.

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I first met Sayeh in November of 2013 just after my 15 year old daughter had been admitted to a residential treatment program. As part of the program I was required to attend 2-3 AlAnon meetings a week. Sayeh attended the same AlAnon meetings as well as Alumni events as I. It soon became apparent to me that Sayeh had a heart for recovery, program, and God. When I was encouraged to get a sponsor I didn’t hesitate. Dependable, respectful, kind and generous of spirit, she exudes an inner peace that I hope to achieve with her loving guidance, as I work my own program. She is patient, & full of wisdom that she is always happy to share with her sponsees and fellow parents. I am so grateful our journeys brought us together.

Megan
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