How Child Abuse Affects The Brain And Raises Risk For Substance Use

By John Lavitt 12/11/15

A new study funded by NIDA shows how childhood maltreatment can alter brain development.

How Child Abuse Affects The Brain And Raises Risk For Substance Use

Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a new study has revealed that childhood maltreatment can alter a child’s brain development, increasing the risk for late substance use disorders and other mental health issues.

Examining young adults who had been maltreated as children, researchers found that the connectivity of nine cortical regions in their brains greatly differed from those who had not been maltreated. The researchers believe that such damage could open the door to substance abuse disorders in adulthood.

Dr. Martin Teicher led a team of researchers in performing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 265 young adults, ages 18 to 25. Based on the responses to screening instruments, including the Traumatic Antecedents Interview and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, the researchers were able to determine that 123 had experienced physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse as children. The researchers then compared their MRI images with those of the 142 participants who had not been maltreated. The comparisons revealed the alterations in cortical network architecture with marked differences in the nine cortical regions of the maltreated subjects.

The damage to the connectivity of the nine cortical regions in the brain would result in long-term negative affects. Maltreated children could face an array of problems, including damage to basic social perceptual skills, and the inability to maintain a healthy balance between introversion and extroversion. The greatest maltreatment-associated connectivity changes, however, were seen in the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate neural regions that work together to mediate perception and regulation of emotions and urges.

“Increased centrality of the anterior insula may lead to more intense craving for drugs coupled with diminished insight into the consequences of such use. Decreased centrality of the anterior cingulate may lead to reduced ability to control impulses or to make appropriate decisions based on past outcomes,” says Dr. Teicher. “This indicates that the altered cortical connectivity in maltreated individuals may put them at much greater risk for addiction if they start down the road of drug use.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.