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Understanding brain asymmetry in drug use

05-23 | By CSAA Team

Understanding brain asymmetry in drug use

Drugs can perform a multitude of functions that can aid in the recovery of an individual. Some drugs can alleviate the symptoms of mental disorders, fasten the healing of wounds, provide important minerals to the body, fight the cancerous cells, control fertility and so forth. They enter into the body and breakdown into several elements that are necessary to combat a specific illness. However, the risk still remains that some drugs can cause side effects, change the chemical balances in the body or not perform as they were intended to.

Some drugs like opioid-based prescription drugs and medications for cough and cold have mind-bending properties. Since they can alter the functioning of the brain and cause many euphoric effects, many users may abuse them to get high. Such drugs have the ability to rewire the brain and cause behavioral changes in the users abusing them. Many users develop such an increased dependence on drugs that they may start prioritizing the practice of abusing such drugs instead of other essential daily activities. These changes can seriously affect their life, relationship with the loved ones and family members, and performance at educational institutions, workplace and in the community.

Changes in the brain due to drug use

A study was performed in 2016 to understand the roles played by the two hemispheres of the brain to ascertain the significance of drug use and addiction. Dr. Harold Gordon of the Epidemiology Research Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discovered that the activities in the right and the left hemisphere of the brain have links to substance use, impulsivity and cravings.

The study assessed numerous reports of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to ascertain the brain activities in both the hemispheres. It used go/no-go and stop-signal tests to assess the participant’s ability to resist impulses to repeat a learned response until it was no longer appropriate. The other test included cue-induced craving protocols that measured the intensity of the participant as they were made to view drug-associated images, texts and related environmental cues.

These tests computed laterality, which is the difference in peak activation levels between the hemispheres, and came up with the following findings:

  • Studies on impulsivity displayed right laterality, which suggests that neurons in the right hemisphere tried to resist impulsive responses. Laterality in the regional structures had more instances of activity peaks in the right hemisphere. Right laterality was positive for the stop-signal test and the go/no-go test in the anterior cingulate associated with emotional regulation, but in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) associated with reward valuation, only stop-signal test displayed right laterality.
  • Studies of the left laterality suggested that neural activity in the left hemisphere was responsible for triggering cravings. Such patterns lit up during cue-induced cravings, especially among participants who used cocaine, heroin, marijuana or alcohol. Intriguingly, the same results were seen when the participants were subjected to cue-induced craving for food.

Treating addiction is important for healthier future

The study of the brain activation in both hemispheres in relation to impulsivity and craving has discovered that:

  • Inhibitory responses and avoidance behaviors are linked to neurotransmitter activity in the right hemisphere and appetitive response.
  • Approach behavior is linked to neurotransmitter activity in the left hemisphere.

The study believes that the understanding of these relationships is inevitably important to comprehend and manage substance use disorder (SUD). The activities of both hemispheres along with the neurotransmitter activity and structural organization could further the understanding of the mechanisms behind cravings and impulsivity.

The findings of the above study can play a crucial role in paving the way for new prevention and treatment measures. They may also aid therapies like transcranial magnetic stimulation, which when applied solely to the left hemisphere has shown reduced cravings in smokers and cocaine users.

If you or your loved one is struggling with any form of substance abuse, it is advisable to seek professional help. The treatment of addiction involves a sequence of diagnosis, biopsychosocial assessment, detoxification, medication, experiential therapies and recovery management. You can also contact the Colorado Substance Abuse Advisors by calling at 866-300-5857 to avail the best substance abuse treatment centers in Colorado. You can also chat online with our medical advisers to access information about the substance abuse treatment programs in Colorado.


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