Size of Brain Areas May Determine Success of Rehab

By Staff Writer

Structural differences in individual’s brains may determine the success or failure of their relapse prevention efforts, according to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco.

Researchers examined a part of the mind known as the brain reward system. This is a system of brain areas that are involved in determining if an experience is pleasurable or negative. It plays a critical role in addiction, as these areas can become dependent on pleasure responses, such as from alcohol or other drugs.

After comparing MRI scans from alcoholics who recently entered drug rehab programs to those of non-drinkers, the researchers found that addicts had much thinner brain reward systems. After following the recovering addicts for a period of 12 months, they found that those who failed to maintain sobriety also had less surface area and total volume in this region of the brain.

The researchers said that this area plays an important role in regulating emotional responses to pleasure. Those who have less brain material in this region may be less able to keep their impulses in check. Drug rehab centers could potentially use this information to develop tailored relapse prevention programs.