SPECT scans are the result of new technology. In the case of understanding and treating substance abuse and/or addiction, they can be of particular help in providing the “visual” evidence (in conjunction with a complete clinical evaluation, of course) of what alcohol abuse, drug abuse and/or addiction does to the brain’s ability to function.
In the images below, what appears to be holes in the brain are not actually holes, rather they are areas of low metabolic activity, low blood flow. A SPECT scan is a map of brain metabolism. It shows how well the blood is flowing through arteries and veins in the brain. This is important because the brain must have oxygen and glucose to function (oxygen and glucose are carried to the brain through blood). Thus the holes that appear on a SPECT are not areas of lost brain matter, which is great news. These are areas of low blood flow therefore impaired brain activity. The even better news, however, is that the brain can heal — these holes can be filled in with proper treatment.
My recent post, “SPECT Scans Showing Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Brain,” shared some 3-D Surface SPECTs completed by the Amen Clinics, which specializes in brain health and innovative diagnosis and treatment for a wide variety of neuropsychiatric, behavioral and learning problems among children, teenagers and adults.
How SPECT Scans Help With Stopping Substance Abuse and/or Addiction Recovery
The images I’m including in this post are also courtesy of Amen Clinics. I’m including them to first show the brain can change — it can repair the chemical and structural changes caused by alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence (although I must be clear, the extent of change will depend on a number of factors, e.g., extent of the abuse, commitment to following treatment regime, etc.) Secondly, I include them to help all concerned – the person with the drinking problem, the family members who love them and society as a whole – better understand all of this is “real.” Thirdly, to help all of us better understand that the earlier substance abuse is stopped, the better for brain recovery.
What can family members do? 1st is to learn as much as you can learn about alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Browse through this blog, read my book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!..., and look at this terrific website, www.hbo.com/addiction. 2nd is to better understand what has happened to you as a result of trying to make sense out of a loved one’s behaviors when their brains have been compromised as shown in these scans (those resources I’ve just listed will help you with this, as well). 3rd, learn how to calmly and matter-of-factly approach the subject with your loved one without engaging in the typical methods of trying to get them to stop — blaming, shaming, anger, manipulating (throwing away alcohol or trying to catch them sneaking a drink). Those do not work. I know because I tried – for decades – and with various loved ones. Unfortunately, this brain research has only been available in the past ten to fifteen years, but fortunately it is here now and is allowing us to better understand what happens to the brains of those who abuse or are dependent on alcohol and to the brains of those who love them.
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©2009 Lisa Frederiksen