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Brain Scans Could Be Used to Predict Potential Drug Use Among Teens - Find Out How

Feb 23, 2017 11:53 AM EST

Researchers from Stanford University and Universitätsklinikum Hamburg Eppendorf revealed that a brain scan test can successfully predict potential drug use among teens better than the traditional behavioral and personality measures.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, showed that suppressed activity in the region of the brain associated with rewards could lead to drug use.

For their study, the researchers first collected data on around 1,000 14-year old students as they underwent a brain scanning test called Monetary Incentive Delay Task, or MID. During the test, the participant was asked to lie down on a MRI scanner while playing a simple video game that offers monetary reward. Before each round of the game starts, the participant was told how much points he could win. As the participant starts to anticipate his winnings, his brain's reward centers begin to light up.

Among the initial number of participants, the researchers focused on 144 teens that scored in the top 25 percent on a test on novelty seeking, which is considered to be a personality trait that indicate a child is at risk of alcohol or drug abuse.

Read Also: Brain Scans of Newborns Could Be Used to Detect Early Signs of Depression, Anxiety  

The researchers noted that teen's brain respond less when anticipating rewards, compared to adult's brain. However, the effect is more apparent when the teen is using drugs. This suggests that drugs could suppress brain activity. On the other hand, it could also mean that suppressed brain activity somehow leads youth to take drugs.

After analyzing the data of the 144 teens, the researchers found that the suppressed brain activity they observed during the MID tasks could predict who will use drugs among the participants. They claim that the brain scan could correctly predict about two-thirds of the time, which is significantly higher compared to behavioral and personality measures that correctly distinguished future drug abusers about 55 percent of the time.

The results must first be replicated before being proven to be effective. However, the researchers are hopeful that their brain scanning test could help in curbing down the rate of drug abuse.

"This is just a first step toward something more useful," said Brian Knutson, a professor of psychology at Stanford and one of the authors of the study, in a press release. "Ultimately the goal - and maybe this is pie in the sky - is to do clinical diagnosis on individual patients."

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