To determine how the brains and behavioral patterns of people previously dependent on stimulants differed across gender lines, researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine compared the structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams of 59 men and women who were previously dependent on cocaine, amphetamines, and/or methamphetamine for an average of 15.7 years with those of 68 people with no history of stimulant drug dependence. Participants with past stimulant addictions had been abstinent on average 14 months at the time of the study.
The data showed that women who were previously dependent on stimulants had significantly less gray matter volume in widespread brain regions (including frontal, limbic, and temporal regions) than nondependent women; no differences in gray matter volume were observed between male control subjects and men with stimulant dependence. Lower gray matter volumes in the nucleus accumbens of women with a history of stimulant dependency were associated with the severity of drug abuse, and lower volumes in the frontal and temporal lobes were associated with elevated impulsivity and behavioral tendencies to seek reward.
“These differences between the sexes could reflect a greater neuroanatomic endophenotype in women that predisposes them to stimulant dependence or a vulnerability to morphologic changes that result from stimulant dependence,” the study authors wrote. “Understanding sex differences in both the neuroimaging and clinical course of substance dependence could lead to improved sex-specific or individualized medical treatment and recovery plans.”
To read more on other structural brain changes that are linked to stimulant use, see the Psychiatric News article “Abnormalities Found in Brain Area of Cocaine Addicts.