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Recovery Through Neuroimaging

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioids have become increasingly dangerous, leading to more than 300,000 deaths in the United States. Research needs to continue so that doctors can find new ways to treat addictions and save lives. “Forging Neuroimaging Targets for Recovery in Opioid Use Disorder” does just that. This study, done by Jennifer L. Steward, April C. May, Robin L. Aupperle, and Jerzy Bodurka, discusses the “Three-Model Theory of Addiction and has begun to address how your brain processes opioids. 


  • Three-Model Theory of Addiction
    1. Binge/intoxication
    • “The stage at which a person uses a drug for its rewarding, feel-good properties.”
    1. Negative reinforcement
    • “The stage at which a person uses a drug to stave off withdrawal, stress, and negative emotions produced by taking the drug over a long period.”
    1. Anticipation and preoccupation
    • “The stage at which a person looks forward to using the drug again and uses the drug compulsively, as drug use becomes more and more difficult to control.”


Steward, May, Aupperle, and Bodurka then discuss the strengths and limitations of recovery through neuroimaging. They have found that future research could be beneficial to help researchers and treatment professions use neuroscience to further addiction research. 


What did the study find throughout the three stages?



  • Binge/intoxication


“In the Binge/Intoxication stage, neuroimaging studies confirm that the key brain region in reward processing, the ventral striatum, shows differences in its “activation”. For instance, levels of oxygen being used in the brain differ between opioid addicts and those who aren’t addicted.


  • Negative reinforcement


“During the Negative Reinforcement stage, the connection between the amygdala and the ventral striatum is stronger in those with opioid addiction compared to those without opioid addiction. The amygdala is involved in the processing of negative emotional states, while the ventral striatum handles reward processing. This indicates an unhealthy relationship between reward and negative affect in those with addiction.”


  • Anticipation and preoccupation


“During the Preoccupation/Anticipation stage, the prefrontal cortex shows increased activation to drug cues. Furthermore, it shows decreased activation to other rewarding cues like food and sex. This can perhaps explain why it is so difficult for those with opioid addiction to stop using. It might further explain why drug use takes such an abnormally high priority in the person’s life to the exclusion of other natural rewards. Increased reward activation in the ventral striatum predicts drug relapse. Increased activation of the prefrontal cortex predicts treatment adherence and effects of medications, such as naltrexone, which are used to treat opioid addiction.”


Neuroimaging is a great tool that can help professionals who treat those with addictions because it shows the changes and differences in an opioid-addicted brain versus a non-addicted brain. Villa Tranquil Recovery is excited about this new research. We want to expand our knowledge when it comes to addiction recovery. Call us today for more information about the programs we offer at 214-799-3080. We can’t wait to hear from you!