Neuroscientists are peering into the brain to understand the biological impact of addiction. Using functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI) of the cerebral blood flow, UCLA researchers have been able to pinpoint when smokers experience nicotine cravings. Subjects watch videos while being scanned with fMRI; by measuring which areas of the brain
become active, the team can tell with 90 per cent accuracy if the subjects are watching a video that shows people smoking.
Researchers are also studying more modern addictions. Investigators in China compared the brains of 17 teens diagnosed
with Internet addiction disorder (IAD) with those of a group of unaddicted peers. In the IAD group, they found significant abnormalities in the white matter connecting brain regions involving emotions, attention and decision-making – strikingly similar to the brain profiles of drug addicts. Such scans could ultimately help refine techniques to fight cravings, as well as identify IAD and monitor the progress of treatments.
– Alex Hutchinson