Comparing PECT scans of the brains of many different addicted individuals, using a variety of different drugs, there is one factor that is common to all; with drug use, the brain loses function in several areas of the brain.
Like a sponge or Swiss cheese, the brain activity over the surface areas of the brain looks like it has many holes in it. For some, this may actually indicate literal holes in the brain, as demonstrated in autopsies of people who have died from drug overdose. For others, this may only mean that activity in those parts of the brain has died.
The speed of the activity also shows up as warm colors on a PECT scan. In a normal PECT scan, the image is relatively smooth with a lot of warm yellow and some darker orange and red as well, in highly active areas.
Examining PECT scans of addicts, the images show a great deal more blue and cool colors, indicating reduced efficiency of brain activity. Interestingly, some of the brain scans demonstrate actual brain shrinkage over years of heavy use.
While reduction of brain activity and surface area is only one aspect of how the brain is affected by drugs, it illustrates the gravity of the effects of drugs on the individuals who use them. Is it any wonder why accidents (DUI’s), violence, and other crimes are associated with drug use?
Hope comes in a study that was performed using PECT scans, to see how much the brain can recover, when the addict quits. Individuals were scanned during active use and then again after a full year of abstinence.
The recovery was dramatic. While not restored to its original form and function, brain activity and surface area were both clearly increased, with a great deal more warm colors, indicating improved speed of brain processing as well. There is healing for the brain, for those who seek treatment and recovery.