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Occasional Drug Users suffer Changes in Brain

Researchers have discovered that occasional use of drugs like cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drugs such as Adderall, causes changes in the brain of users.

Nimisha Sachdev, French Tribune, Mar 26, 2014

The researchers used brain scans to test reaction time of occasional drug users. Either an X or an O on a screen was showed to 18 to 24-year-old college students, and then they were asked to press a left button if an X appeared or a right button if an O appeared. They were also asked to press nothing if a tone was heard.

Brain differences represent an internal hard wiring that are likely to make some people become addicted to drugs later in life, said Dr. Martin Paulus, a professor of psychiatry and colleagues.

"If you show me 100 college students and tell me which ones have taken stimulants a dozen times, I can tell you those students' brains are different. Our study is telling us, it's not 'this is your brain on drugs,' it's 'this is the brain that does drugs", said Paulus in a statement.

Those who took stimulants an average of 12 to 15 times were defined as occasional drug users. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that occasional users have slightly faster reaction times, which was actually a tendency towards impulsivity.

It was also found that more mistakes were made by the occasional users and their performance worsened as the task became harder. The brain scans of the occasional users showed patterns of diminished neuronal activity in the parts of the brain related to anticipatory functioning.

Lead author Katia Harle, a postdoctoral researcher in the Paulus laboratory, said it was believed for a long period that drug addicts are not able to control themselves. However, the latest study has made it clear that the root of this problem lies in an impaired ability to anticipate a situation and to detect trends when they need to stop.

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