Scientists discover common brain network among those suffering from substance use disorder

BOSTON – A groundbreaking new study indicates that there’s a common brain network among people suffering from substance use disorder.

A multi-center research team used a technique called network mapping to create maps of affected brains and search for overlap. They compared data from 144 imaging studies and more than 9,000 participants. A brain map of 1,000 healthy people was used as a study comparison. The analysis included addiction to a variety of substances, including alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, opioids, and cannabis.

No matter the substance, researchers were able to identify a common brain circuit. This network encompassed brain regions like the anterior cingulate, insulae, prefrontal cortices, and the thalamus. These areas have previously been linked to human cravings, emotions, and making risky decisions. 

“Consistency across different studies means we now have a brain circuit to target addiction with treatments, rather than just a region,” Dr. Michael Fox, who led the research team, said.

Researchers say identifying this network could pave the way for developing targeted and effective treatments, including neurostimulation therapies.

However, researchers note that the study does have some limitations, including relying on data from previous studies and the diversity in brain imaging interpretation methods.

This research is published in Nature Mental Health.