Conditioned responses to cues associated with drug taking play a pivotal role in a number of theories of drug addiction. This study examined whether attentional biases towards drug-related cues exist in recreational drug users who predominantly used ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Experiment 1 compared 30 ecstasy users, 25 cannabis users, and 30 controls in an attentional distraction task in which neutral, evocative, and ecstasy-related pictures were presented within a coloured border, requiring participants to respond as quickly as possible to the border colour. Experiment 2 employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the attentional distraction task and tested 20 ecstasy users and 20 controls. Experiment 1 revealed significant response speed interference by the ecstasy-related pictures in the ecstasy users only. Experiment 2 revealed increased prefrontal and occipital activity in ecstasy users in all conditions. Activations in response to the ecstasy stimuli in these regions showed an apparent antagonism whereby ecstasy users, relative to controls, showed increased occipital but decreased right prefrontal activation. These results are interpreted to reflect increased visual processing of, and decreased prefrontal control over, the irrelevant but salient ecstasy-related stimuli. These results suggest that right inferior frontal cortex may play an important role in controlling drug-related attentional biases and may thus play an important role in mediating control over drug usage.
Trinity College Dublin ->