According to researchers at the University of California, San Diego, young adults who occasionally use stimulants including cocaine, amphetamines or prescription drugs such as Adderall show brain changes on scans.
In a controlled experiment, researchers tested reaction times of two groups of college students between the ages of 18 and 24. The students were divided into two groups. One group’s participants had never taken stimulants and the other group’s participants had taken stimulants on average 12 to 15 times. Both groups were screened for factors, such as alcohol dependency and mental health disorders, which might have affected study’s results.
The researchers showed the students either an X or an O on a screen and instructed them to press, as quickly as possible, a left button if an X appeared or a right button if an O appeared. If a tone was heard, then were instructed not to press a button.
In the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers reported interesting results. Occasional stimulant users showed a tendency towards impulsivity indicated by their faster reaction times. Occasional users also made more mistakes when they heard a tone, compared with nonusers.
The researchers aim to eventually be able to use a person’s brain activity patterns to identify at-risk youth before they show outward signs of addicted behaviors. Dr. Martin Paulus said the differences they observed in participant’s brains represent an internal hard wiring that may cause some people to be more prone to drug addiction when they are older.
“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.” Paulus said in a statement. “Our study is telling us, it’s not “this is your brain on drugs,’ it’s ‘this is the brain that does drugs.’”