SPECT for drug addiction and alcoholism treatment

SPECT nuclear imaging tests shows how blood flows to tissues in the brain, and show marked changes after chronic drug use. More on using SPECT for drug and alcohol addiction treatment here.

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What is SPECT?

SPECT is an acronym for Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography, which is a type of nuclear imaging test that shows how blood flows to tissues in the brain. The way it works is like this:

1. A radioactive isotope, commonly idodine-123, is chemically bound to a substance that is readily taken up by cells in the brain. A small amount of this compound is injected intravenously and it runs throughout the blood stream and is taken up by certain receptors in the brain.

2. As the radioactive isotope decays, it emits gamma rays which are detected by a special camera that rotates around your head.

3. A computer then takes this information and reconstructs a 3-D image of your brain.

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The result is a sophisticated map of blood flow and metabolism in the brain. With these maps, physicians have been able to identify certain patterns of brain activity that correlate with psychiatric and neurological illnesses.  And offer insight into your brain and drug abuse.

How can SPECT be used for addiction treatment?

Need help to free your family from addiction?  A physician named Dr. Daniel Amen has spent his entire career advocating for the use of brain imaging techniques, like SPECT, in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and yes, even drug addiction. Just like any other neurological disorder, substance abuse, both long and short term, negatively impacts blood flow and metabolism in the brain, resulting in disturbances to the central nervous system. These disturbances can be readily identified by SPECT images which can help in the following ways.

• Identifying toxic exposure

• Reducing denial

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• Helping determine if treatment is working correctly

• Helping determine if there could be co-occurring conditions that need treatment

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  • Access to top treatment centers
  • Compassionate guidance
  • Financial assistance options

• Increasing treatment and recovery program compliance by showing pictures of results

• Helping people gain a better understanding of their brain through visuals

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Which type of brain do you have?

SPECT images can be found on Dr. Amen’s SPECT gallery online and they paint a pretty startling picture of the negative effects different types of substances can have on our brain. Notice the common similarity among drug and alcohol abusers is that the brain has an overall toxic look to it. In general, the SPECT scans look less active, more shrivelled, and overall less healthy. In fact, a “scalloping effect” is common amongst drug abusing brains. Normal brain patterns show smooth activity across the cortical surface. Scalloping is a wavy, rough sea-like look on the brain’s surface. Here are some summaries of brain images by substance:

  • Cocaine and methamphetamine abuse appear as multiple small holes across the cortical surface.
  • Heroin abuse appears as marked decreased activity across the whole cortical surface.
  • Heavy marijuana abuse shows decreased activity in the temporal lobes bilaterally
  • Heavy alcohol abuse shows marked decreased activity throughout the brain.

Abstinence can improve brain health

Although these pictures paint a pretty bleak picture for the health of our brain, there is some hope. Because the human brain is so resilient, a little abstinence can go a long way. In fact, Dr. Amen has documented images which show an addict’s brain while they were using and their brain after only one year substance free. Notice the overall holes and shriveled appearance during abuse and marked improvement with abstinence.

Questions about SPECT and drug addiction

Do you wonder how SPECT imaging can apply to you? Do you have more questions about using SPECT images to diagnose or treat addiction? Please leave your questions here. We will do our best to respond to you with a personal and prompt reply.

About the author
Andrew Seaward is the author of Some Are Sicker Than Others. Although he makes his living as a chemical engineer in the Oil & Gas industry, his true passion is telling great stories through both acting and writing. He is a member and contributor of Benjy Dobrin Studios, the Cinematic Arts of Colorado and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He has written and acted in several short and feature length films, one of which won an Award of Merit at the 2010 Indie Fest.


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  1. in 2004 I had a spect scan of the brain to show depression and add. in 2008 I began taking abilify until 2016. it caused compulsive gambling, shopping, weight gain, diabetes and tartive dyskinesia. I stopped it but now want to know whether another brain scan spect would show the brain damage I have received from being on the drug. please advise, I know I am not the same person any longer and feel I have been severely damaged mentally, terri

  2. My son is a heroin addict. He played football and had several head in jury’s. I am interested in getting him a SPECT. Thank you

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