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Brain Scans Can Help with Addictions

10 Ways Brain Scans Can Help with Addictions

Rachel, 42, had gone to six alcohol addiction treatment programs and failed every one of them. She really wanted to follow the programs and quit drinking, but she was so impulsive she couldn’t stop herself if she was around alcohol. When she had her brain scanned using technology called SPECT, it revealed abnormal activity in an area called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is involved in impulse control. It’s like the brain’s brake, making you stop before engaging in risky or unhealthy activities.

After seeing her SPECT brain scan, Rachel remembered that as a child she was kicked in the head by a horse. Because of this, the part of her brain that was supposed to keep her behavior in check wasn’t working right. If the underlying problem with her PFC wasn’t addressed, she would never be able to follow any recovery program. With treatment to improve her PFC function, Rachel was finally able to stick with a program and stop drinking.

Here are 10 ways SPECT brain scans can help you understand and treat addictions.

1. Brain scans don’t lie.

SPECT brain scans can clearly show toxic exposure from drugs and alcohol. These addictive substances negatively impact areas of the brain that play an important role in your ability to live your best life. To see the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain, look at the following poster, which hangs in over 100,000 schools, prisons, and therapist’s offices around the world.

2. Revealing the effects of everyday drugs.

Brain imaging shows that substances like marijuana (now legal in some states), nicotine, caffeine, and even too much sugar compromise brain function.

3. Brain imaging reveals there is more than one type of addiction.

One of the most important things brain imaging shows is that addiction is not a single or simple disorder. There are 6 types of brain patterns associated with addiction, and each type requires individualized treatment. The 6 types of addiction are:

Type 1: Compulsive Addicts

Type 2: Impulsive Addicts

Type 3: Impulsive-Compulsive Addicts

Type 4: Sad of Emotional Addicts

Type 5: Anxious Addicts

Type 6: Temporal Lobe Addicts

4. SPECT brain scans reduce shame and stigma.

If you’re like most people who struggle with substance abuse, you probably think it is all your fault or that you are a bad person. Brain imaging helps erase these untrue and unhelpful thoughts. When you see that addiction is a brain disorder, it helps lift the stigma that typically comes with addiction.

5. Brain scans help break denial.

Addicts are usually the last one to admit that they have a problem. Take Chase, for example. At 18, he was drinking and using OxyContin, coke, meth, and more, but he didn’t think he had a problem. His mother eventually took him in for a brain scan, which revealed a very toxic brain. When Chase saw his brain scans, it hit him hard. Even though he didn’t think the drugs and drinking were a problem, he couldn’t deny the damage he saw in his scans. That was what he needed to finally get clean and sober.

6. Seeing your brain scan helps your family understand better.

Parents of substance abusers often feel like it’s their fault, or they blame each other for their child’s addiction. Seeing that addiction is a brain disorder eliminates these feelings and helps the entire family get focused on helping the substance abuser heal their brain.

7. Brain imaging reveals co-morbid conditions.

It is common for people with addictions to suffer from other issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, or head injuries (like Rachel, who was kicked in the head by a horse). In order to heal from addiction, these other issues also need to be addressed.

8. Seeing your brain motivates you to follow a treatment plan.

For many people, like Chase, seeing how toxic their brain looks is one of the greatest motivators for treatment. When they understand that it is their brain health that is the key to having success at school, at work, and in relationships, it increases that motivation.

9. Follow your progress.

Seeing before-and-after SPECT brain scans is the best way to objectively know when an addiction treatment plan is working effectively or when it should be adjusted to promote faster healing.

10. SPECT scans give you hope.

The before-and-after scans of substance abusers show some of the greatest improvements in brain health. When you see these, it gives you hope that no matter what you are addicted to—drugs, alcohol, smoking, or even overeating—your brain can recover too.

At Amen Clinics, we use SPECT brain imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to help people of all ages heal from all types of addictions. We use an integrated brain-body approach to treatment that includes biological, psychological, social, and spiritual elements to identify areas of your life—or a family member’s life—that can be optimized. To learn more, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.

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  1. Jeannette Bovert says:

    Where can i get one of those posters with the various brain pictures? I work at a high school in Special Ed and would love to be able to put it up in the classroom.


  2. Ronda says:

    Do you reccomend anywhere in phx az to get scanned?

  3. chari turner says:

    Im weaning down and off Cymbalta.Ive been on this med for 12 years.Ive tried going off it 1 time some years ago to end up having severe brain zaps and dizziness and house swimming in my brain,vertigo.Yesterday i went from 60 mgs to 50 and im wondering how long in between taperings i should go.Should i go 3 months? I dont want to have the terrible side affects ive had from the fast tapering i have done in the past.Thank you for any info you can give me! Chari Turner.

  4. Charlene Smuck says:

    Where can we go for a brain spect living in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. After studying Dr. Amen’s approach to mental health and brain health for years our son 28 suffers from mental illness and addictions. He is finally asking for help and seems to be more ready than ever. My husband has Alzheimer’s (88) and I am carrying both. Perhaps a family plan might be best for all of us. So what would I have to do to get things moving. Travel is a bit difficult with my husband, but we will do what we have to. Help. You may be an answer to prayers. Thanks. Charlene S.

  5. Trudi Kraus says:

    Do you have a clinic in Guadalajara Mexico?I am currently living in Ajijic
    jalisco Mexico.
    Where is the closest place I can get a
    Brain spect.

  6. Christy Ellis says:

    Do you have a location in Arkansas


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