"Right now there are no treatments for stimulant addiction and the relapse rate is upward of 50%," says Dr. Martin Paulus, professor of psychiatry at UCSD and co-senior author of the study. "Early intervention is our best option."
"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," says Dr. Paulus.
Plans are underway to do more extensive research in order to determine whether the brain changes are permanent, or whether they can be reversed. It might be possible to strengthen the areas of the brain that became weakened by stimulant use.
"Our study is telling us, it's not 'this is your brain on drugs,' it's 'this is the brain that does drugs.'"
It may be possible to use brain activity patterns to predict whether youths are at risk of drug addiction before they start down that road, according to the findings.
The research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.