Now, new research being conducted in Israel shows that addictions work differently in women and men. A study being conducted largely in Israel by Evan Morris, an associate professor of Radiology, Biomedical Engineering, and Psychiatry at Yale University, shows this clearly. In fact, Morris and his students have even made a movie out of it.
Those findings are interesting, Morris told The Times of Israel, but the real point is to show “how short-term bursts of brain activity are prompted by chemical changes. This could have all sorts of implications for treating symptoms like PTSD and other stress-induced conditions, where there can be radical changes in brain activity for short periods of time.”
Morris is a world-renowned expert on Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging using tracer kinetic modeling to create functional images of the brain.
“With PET, you can see in how the brain changes – based on mathematical formulas – in response to induced changes,” said Morris. “One of the most difficult challenges facing researchers is developing models of short-term changes – changes in the brain that pass quickly, perhaps in just a few minutes or so.”
It’s clear that with a supercharged emotion taking over the body – anger, ecstasy, or anything in between – there are changes to the brain, “but generally researchers have been able to capture only changes that linger, with the imaging of the short-term changes unattainable.”
That’s what makes a study of smoking so attractive. “When a person smokes, the chemicals they inhale – especially nicotine – engender a response that releases dopamine, the brain’s primary motivation neurotransmitter.”
Dopamine is released in response to environmental and internal stimuli – food, sex, or pleasurable events – as well as in response to chemicals that stimulate the central nervous system, like nicotine.
The sensation involved with nicotine – as with other drugs – is fleeting, with dopamine levels rising sharply but briefly. PET scans, said Morris, provide an opportunity to see how this fleeting sensation physically affects the brain.
“We are able to scan the brain’s reaction using a tracer that mimics dopamine. With our method, we are able to see how brains react to the chemically induced changes associated with addiction over time, creating a movie which shows the changes – and that is where we noticed how male and female brains differ when it comes to smoking.”