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Rev Neurol. 2007 Apr 1-15;44(7):432-9.

[Neuroimaging and drug addiction: neuroanatomical correlates of cocaine, opiates, cannabis and ecstasy abuse].

[Article in Spanish]

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Departamento de Personalidad, Evaluación y Tratamiento Psicológico, Universidad de Granada, Granada, España.



Drug abuse is related to neurocognitive alterations linked to the functioning of several areas of the brain. The application of advanced neuroimaging techniques has allowed important advances to be made in research being conducted on why stable disorders are produced in the brain mechanisms responsible for the cognitive processes and on determining exactly what mechanisms drugs of abuse are involved in. AIM. To discuss the evidence available regarding the existence of alterations in the brains of consumers of the most prevalent drugs of abuse in western societies, that is, cocaine, opiates, ecstasy and cannabis.


We review the main neuroimaging studies that have detected alterations in the brain structure and functioning of drug abusers. Likewise, we also discuss the findings from functional neuroimaging studies that have analysed patterns of brain activation associated to specific cognitive operations, such as memory or the executive functions.


Drug abusers present significant alterations in extensive areas of the cortex (especially in the frontal and temporal cortex), subcortex (amygdala, hippocampus and insular cortex) and basal regions (striatum). These alterations are associated with abnormal patterns of activation during cognitive memory tasks, inhibition and decision-making. Cocaine abusers present more pronounced and generalised alterations in the brain. By combining neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings is has been shown that the motivational, memory and executive control processes can play a key role in rehabilitating drug addicts.

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