Study: FDG-PET brain scans show cocaine abusers can control cravings

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FDG-PET brain imaging has shown that cocaine abusers may retain some ability to inhibit craving which may be therapeutically beneficial in addiction, according to research published online Nov. 18 in NeuroImage.

"This study provides the first evidence that cocaine abusers retain some ability to cognitively inhibit their craving responses to drug-related cues," said co-author Gene-Jack Wang, MD, chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

Wang and colleagues compared brain activation using PET and 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) to measure brain glucose metabolism in 24 cocaine abusers who watched a cocaine-cue video with and without instructions to cognitively inhibit craving.

The researchers evaluated whether addicted subjects, when instructed to purposefully control their craving responses to drug-conditioned stimuli, can inhibit brain regions implicated in drug craving.

The cocaine-cue video increased craving during the no-inhibition condition (pre 3, post 6) but not when subjects were instructed to inhibit craving (pre 3, post 3), according to the investigators.

The researchers found visual activation for both cocaine-cue conditions and limbic inhibition when subjects purposefully inhibited craving. This suggested that cocaine abusers may retain some ability to inhibit craving and that strengthening cognitive regulation may be therapeutically beneficial in addiction, the authors wrote.

"Our findings provide enormous hope because they imply that cognitive interventions might be developed to maximize cocaine abusers' success in blocking the drug-craving response to help them avoid relapse," said lead author Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md.