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How Stimulant Drugs Take Control of Your Brain


If you are reading this post, you have probably seen the free will of someone you know and love hijacked by a drug to the point that it destroyed his or her life. I’ve been there, too. Addiction to a substance can dictate every aspect of one’s life and cause the person to be impulsive and make reckless or self-destructive decisions. It’s difficult to watch.

Amphetamine-type stimulants are the #2 most widely used illicit substance in the world. They are extremely addictive and have quickly become a significant public health problem - especially for the younger generation. Methamphetamine addiction treatment is now a highly sought after program at many treatment centers nationwide.

Some drugs, like crystal meth for example, have a stronger effect on certain people more so than others. How do amphetamine-like drugs rewire the brain in such a way that it can hijack a person's decision-making ability, increase impulsivity, and drive certain users to risk everything just for another fix?

Neuroscientists in Germany have researched at length and may have some answers for us to look to. Recently, researchers from the University of Bonn identified the cause of why certain people are particularly vulnerable to becoming addicted to amphetamines while others are not. The cause could be linked to structural changes which are known to occur during recreational use of these drugs in the amygdala, striatum, and prefrontal cortex. These areas are also referred to as the “fronto-striato-limbic” regions of the brain.


A recent study published in May 2015 in Brain: A Journal of Neurology called, "Smaller Amygdala and Medial Prefrontal Cortex Predict Escalating Stimulant Use,” noted that some individuals are more prone to having their brain hijacked by the use of drugs.

Those researchers discovered that people who would occasionally use amphetamines and then later went on to increase their drug use and become addicts showed differences in their brain structure after they had started using the drugs. Others who didn't increase their drug use over time did not show these changes in brain structure.

The amphetamines very literally appeared to target the regions of the person’s brain which is responsible for overall function, the ability to restrain impulsivity, & decision-making which caused those parts to atrophy. It was as if the drug systematically hijacked the brain in a targeted manner and re-programmed in into an auto-pilot mode of a new behavior to seek another drug fix.

For their study, the researchers, including the lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Becker, took a scan of the brain structure of 66 participants who would occasionally use amphetamine drugs in an attempt to provide a baseline - the first evidence demonstrating how volumes of fronto-striato-limbic sections of the brain morphed over a 24 month period.


In two distinct experiments, the brain structures of all 66 participants were scanned and then the volumes of fronto-striato-limbic regions were measured. These brain areas directly impact decision-making ability and impulsivity.

The participants of the study were all of similar socio-economic status, performance in neurocognitive assessments, as well as previous history of drug experimentation. After taking an initial scan of the brain, the researchers monitored each participant after 1 year and then again after 2 years to find out whether their drug use had declined, stayed the same, or increased.

When the team compared the brain scans of each participant, they discovered a reduced “fronto-striato-limbic” brain volume in every one of the individuals who had began as occasional amphetamine users but went on to increase their drug intake over time and ended up as addicts over the 24 month period.

Those who became addicted to the drug appeared to have a built-in susceptibility which gave the drug the ability to shrink volumes of specific gray matter, while those who continued to use the drugs in moderation or who decreased the use of the drugs over time did not experience these changes in brain structure.

What We Learned: Changes in Fronto-Striato-Limbic Volume Allow Amphetamine Use to

Take Over

For more effective early interventions related to addiction, the researchers conclude that it is vital to label specific biomarkers which have the ability to be used as a way of identifying those who are more vulnerable to drug addiction. As stated by Becker in a press release published, "prospective longitudinal studies in occasional users are of great importance to determine biological vulnerability markers, which can help to identify individuals at greatest risk of developing an addiction." With that, he went on to say, "these findings indicate that individual differences in fronto-striato-limbic regions implicated in impulsivity and decision making could render individuals vulnerable for the transition from occasional to escalating stimulant use."

The conclusions of the research in this study indicate that lesser brain volumes in fronto-striato-limbic areas of the brain are conclusively linked to impulsivity and decision-making which can take over a person’s executive brain functions to then create a vulnerability to becoming addicted to amphetamine-type drugs. We can now take that data to drill down even further and find ways to help those who are susceptible to addiction as early as possible and integrate that into methamphetamine addiction treatment programs for better outcomes.


Seeking Treatment

The important thing in all of this is that you seek help for your drug addiction. Do not let fear keep you from the life you have always wanted. You do not need to fight this disease alone and any and all concerns that you have can be addressed as you move through the process of recovery. So call the professionals at Evolutions Treatment Center today, at 1-866-771-7091. We are standing by to help you finally overcome your addiction.