Brain scans can predict future addicts

Brain scans can predict future addicts
21 Feb
2017

Scientists have found a new way to spot potential drug addicts at a young age.

They say drug abuse at the age of 16 can be predicted by the way the brain responds to rewards at the age of 14 using brain scans.

The technique could be developed into a way to target those who may be vulnerable to drugs and get them help before an addiction develops.

'While some kids might appear to be at risk for substance use, not all are,' lead-author Professor Brian Knutson, a psychology research at Stanford University, told MailOnline.

'If we had ways of predicting who was vulnerable, the hope is that we could better target resources and treatments.'

The research found that lower activity in the brain's motivational regions in response to reward could pick teenagers out as at risk of future drug abuse.

Researchers from Stanford University followed 144 novelty-seeking adolescents from the age of 14 to the age of 16.

'Novelty-seeking' behaviour through impulsive and rash decisions can be detrimental, as it encourages risky behaviour.

But it can also be beneficial because it encourages adolescents to discover and explore new opportunities.

This behaviour is generally accompanied by activity in a brain network that responds to motivation.

However, it had previously been unclear when this activity predicts positive or negative behaviour toward drugs.

All of the study participants underwent psychometric evaluation and were also scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they did a task that prepared them for a financial reward.

Results showed that 14-year-old adolescents who showed reduced motivational brain activity in response to financial reward were more likely to develop drug abuse habits at age 16.

This neural marker out-predicted more conventional psychometric measures, suggesting that it may be a new method for researchers and clinicians to target vulnerable individuals for intervention before the onset of drug addiction.

'It is possible that the brain scans could become a part of conventional medicine,' Professor Knutson told MailOnline.

'But only if they do as good as or a better job of predicting and recommending treatment as other measures, and are cost effective.

'As long as adolescents and parents can elect not to have the scans, I think they are ethical.'

HOW IS DRUG ABUSE LINKED TO MOTIVATION?

'Novelty-seeking' behaviour through impulsive and rash decisions can be detrimental, as it encourages risky behaviour.

But it can also be beneficial because it encourages adolescents to discover and explore new opportunities.

This behaviour is generally accompanied by activity in a brain network that responds to motivation.

However, it had been unclear when this activity predicts positive or negative behaviour with drugs.

The research found that lower activity in the brain's motivational regions in response to reward could pick teenagers out as at risk of future drug abuse.