Brain Damage More Significant in Women than Men, Study Finds

Drug-Use Has Its Effects on Brain Damage

Looks like there’s yet another reason to be concerned about the effects of long-term drug use. A recent study indicates that women are more susceptible to losing valuable gray matter in their brains from long-term drug use. The results of the study, published in the Radiology journal, indicated how this loss contributed to the excess of brain size that is available to patients after a period of time. The patient pool used were about 127 of both genders, with 59 of them previously addicted to cocaine, methamphetamine and / or amphetamines. On average, their addictions lasted 15 years per individual.

The Brain Damage Study

The study, conducted at the University in Colorado, was brought about when researchers wanted to answer the question of what makes the brain damage of healthy people different from those of previously dependent patients. One researcher, Judy Tanabe, noted that when the research was being conducted, the women that were previously dependent on these stimulants demonstrated widespread brain differences compared to their healthy counterparts. This difference simply was not there for the male subjects.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, were used to determine the damage and extent of effects of brain damage in each patient.

The study showed that there was a shift in a woman’s ability to learn reward mechanisms and execute control functions, as the brain structures used to do this were affected by the drug use. This shift was even evident when the female patients had been clean for a little more than a year, they were still suffering from the effects of this. It was also noted that significant gray matter loss was exhibited in the previously dependent patients, specifically in the frontal region, limbic region and temporal region of their brains.

Why is Gray Matter Loss So Important?

Brain damage to these areas of the brain should be of high concern, as it affects the patient’s decision making process, reward processing, emotional responses and habit formation. Tanabe has stated that she hopes her findings will “lead to further investigation” on how gender plays a role in the effects of long term drug use and dependency in patients. The next step for these researchers will be to examine how the diminished volume of gray matter related to the behavior that people adopted, using the information provided in this study.


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