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Brain Scans Of Drug Addicts- How Are They Effective?

Brain Scans Of Drug Addicts- How Are They Effective?

Last updated on 04 Apr, 2024

Addiction brain scans are effective in helping demonstrate chronic drug exposure. It also reveals the neurochemical and functional changes in the brains of drug addicts.  Brain scan images of drug users further help in differentiating the brain activity of a normal healthy brain from those with long-term abuse. 

Most physicians at the current time rely on Addiction brain scans for evaluating the severity and the treatment course. 

The best addiction treatment is generally those that offer holistic analysis. Such treatments take the individual as a whole rather than focusing solely on the symptoms of addiction. It means treatments must view addiction through multiple lenses. In this regard, brain imaging techniques provide an overall and in-depth addiction analysis. This method allows for better addressing of the addiction treatment approach.

Addiction Brain Scans | Clinical Applications


While the brain plays an active role in addiction, everyone may not understand the need for such an in-depth tool. The detailed information is why SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) scans on alcoholic brains are common instead of other brain imaging tools such as MRI. 

Most brain imaging technique scans will provide information about what the brain looks like and which part functions. Instead, SPECT imaging shows in detail not what works but rather how. Just because a part of the brain is healthy does not mean it functions similarly to another person’s brain. Certain areas of the brain may be underused or overused. They may respond slower or faster than other areas. 

Brain imaging will show how the brain reacts to various activities or sources of stimulation, which will tell more about how one may operate in day-to-day life. It, therefore, helps to monitor and address specific addiction treatments. Moreover, depending on the results of these brain imaging techniques, most physicians recommend Dual Diagnosis Rehab for addiction, Behaviour Therapy, and other drug addiction programs.

Areas Of The Brain Affected By Drugs And Alcohol

Brain scan images of drug users show the following affected areas of the brain from drug and alcohol misuse. 

  • Basal Ganglia - This is a part of the brain that plays a key role in motivation and forming habits. It also allows people to feel pleasure. In people with addiction, the Basal Ganglia becomes less sensitive to the neutral reward system making it hard to feel pleasure without using alcohol and drug. 

  • Prefrontal Cortex - It is one of the most crucial sections of the brain that plays a key role in people's ability to plan, think, decision making and solve problems. This part of the brain plays a key role in causing addiction in teens as it takes longer to mature. In the presence of continuous drug and alcohol use, it shifts the brain circuits from stress to reward. 

  • Extended Amygdala - This section of the human brain plays a key role in causing irritability, anxiety, and overall uneasiness, which may be similar to the symptoms experienced during withdrawal. With regular use of a drug or substance, this part of the brain becomes more sensitive, causing people to take these substances to avoid a negative feeling [1]. 

Efficacy Of Brain Scans On Drugs Addict

Addiction is a disease that makes a person unable to resist taking substances. With the advent of science and technology, it has been possible to address such addictions and prescribe specific and customized treatments. 

Addiction alters brain physiology. The prefrontal cortex shows significant changes due to dependence. Brain scans of drug addicts help to deduce the necessary assistance and thereby have been an effective method for recovery.

In recovering addicts, brain scans can be beneficial in the following ways-

  • These scans are highly reliable, and they do not provide false results. They show clear toxic damage and exposure, which can be caused by drugs and alcohol. 

  • The scans help in revealing the effects of the drug on the human brain. 

  • The scans are effective in showcasing the presence of more than one addiction, such as-

    • Temporal Lobe Addicts.

    • Impulsive Addicts.

    • Emotional or Sad addicts. 

    • Anxious Addicts.

    • Compulsive Addicts [1]. 

  • These brain scans further play a key role in revealing co-occurring disorders in users, such as depression, traumatic brain injury, and ADHD. 

How Can Brain Scans Assist In Recovering Addicts?

Below are the ways brain scans can help with addictions:

  • This technique shows clarity in brain imaging about the toxicity and exposure due to substance abuse. 

  • Brain scans show the daily effect on the brain of substances like caffeine, sugar, etc.

  • Brain imaging techniques help to indicate the several types of addictions. They are compulsive addicts, impulsive addicts, impulsive-compulsive addicts, emotional addicts, anxious addicts, and temporal lobe addicts.

  • It removes pre-assumptions. Brain imaging has made it possible to remove shame and stigma by proving that addiction can also be due to brain disorders.

  • Imaging also helps addicts to realize their issues and the dangers habit formation inflicts on the brain, which can motivate addicts to recover and attain sobriety.

  • Support from family is one of the treatments an addict requires for a speedy recovery. Imaging techniques help the family confirm that addiction can be due to brain conditions, making them support the patient rather than blaming each other.

  • This technique addresses co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, etc.

  • One of the main advantages of modern brain imaging techniques is that they may aid in drug recovery by showing the treatment progress and motivating them.

Can A CT Scan Detect Drug Use?

A CT Scan can detect drug use along with complications involving the gastrointestinal system,  soft tissue vascular, and musculoskeletal systems. 

A wide range of abdominal complications associated with drug use and abuse can be seen through CT scans, including visceral infarction, disseminated infections, and gastrointestinal ischemia. 

For an accurate diagnosis, it is important for radiologists to be familiar with the imaging findings [2]. 

Can MRI Scans Detect Drug Use?

MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) studies are very effective in documenting drug addiction and its associated volume and tissue composition changes. They also help in detecting the changes that are associated with the cognitive and decision-making issue of the abuser [3]. 

A study analyzing the effect of cocaine on the structural changes in the brain through the use of MRI indicates that this technique does not detect a significant change in the volumes of such users. 

The use of MRI is also effective in showcasing chronic Ischemia, a condition that is characterized by deficient blood flow to certain parts of the brain. Studies suggest that opium abuse may be a key factor in increasing the risk of ischemic stroke [4,5]. 

Limitations Of Brain Scan Technique For Addiction

Although brain imaging studies of cocaine-abusing or dependent individuals have found it a very effective measure for aiding recovery, such techniques have certain limitations.

  • Brain imaging tests are expensive and might not be affordable for everyone.

  • The brain imaging technique may not be suitable for patients with metal implants and pacemakers.

  • The technique is sensitive to physical movements and requires the patient to stay still. It is, therefore, unsuitable for uncooperative patients.

  • The imaging technique might require radioactive tracer injection, which is risky.

  • Patients with claustrophobia might find it difficult during the process.

Moreover, brain imaging techniques are limited to addiction detection and determining how to repair your brain after drug use with specific individual treatment concentrations. This technique does not address one of the most crucial aspects of habit-formation recovery: relapse. The need for relapse prevention is the base for recovering completely. 

Armodafinil 150 mg is a specific medication for addiction treatment, along with helping monitor relapse. The Nootropic is advisable by health experts for its efficacy in combating relapse. It helps by decreasing the craving for addictive substances and lowers the chances of deteriorating the existing condition. Thus helping achieve better focus and dedication towards abstinence from addiction. The FDA approves using the Nootropic, and one can safely order Armodafinil in the USA from Healthmatter.


Yes, brain scans can provide images of the toxicity and damage inflicted on the brain. It can compare the addicted brain vs. the normal brain and can help devise necessary addiction treatments.

The reward center of the brain, called the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, is the part responsible for habit formation. The simultaneous release of dopamine and cortisol creates the compulsion cycle that urges substance use.

Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, or SPECT, has been an effective method of detecting psychiatric disorders. It provides a 3D map demonstrating the flow of blood and the functioning of the organs.

Studies show that MRI scans showcase the volume and tissue composition changes in the brain and are associated with the cognitive and decision-making ability of the user.

The section of the brain that is responsible for causing addiction is called the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. They are also known as the reward circuit of the brain.

The three parts of the brain that are primarily associated with addiction are the prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, and extended amygdala.

Some of the tests that can be effective in testing drugs are Urine drug testing (UDT), Hair follicle drug testing, and Blood tests.

Brain SPECT is a type of scanning procedure that demonstrates abnormalities in the areas of the brain known to be involved in behavior, such as the temporal and frontal lobes.


  1. Can Brain Imaging Help Beat Drug Addiction, 10acreranch. 
  2. Abdominal Imaging Manifestations of Recreational Drug Use, 
  3. Imaging the Addicted Human Brain - PMC - NCBI
  4. Chronic Ischemia Syndrome - Clínica Universidad de Navarra
  5. Frequency of Opium Addiction in Patients with Ischemic Stroke and Comparing their Cerebrovascular Doppler Ultrasound Changes to Non-Addicts, NCBI.


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