Study Shows Link Between Child Abuse, Drugs


WASHINGTON - Repeated sexual abuse makes physical changes in the brain, changes that can explain why abused children often use illegal drugs later in life, researchers said this week.

They found that children who were sexually abused had changes in the blood flow and function of a brain region called the cerebellar vermis, which is also known to change when people abuse drugs.

``This part of the brain has been recently implicated in the coordination of emotional behavior, is strongly affected by alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs of abuse, and may help regulate dopamine, a neurotransmitter critically involved in addiction,'' McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, where the study was done, said in a statement.

Writing in the January issue of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, Carl Anderson and colleagues said they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of 32 adults, aged 18 to 22. Half had been abused as children.

They homed in on the cerebellar vermis because it develops slowly and can be affected easily by stress hormones.

``Damage to this area of the brain may cause an individual to be particularly irritable, and to seek external means, such as drugs or alcohol, to quell this irritability,'' Anderson said in a statement.

A second study published this week showed related results.

A team at the University of Buffalo in New York found that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can increase the craving for drugs in abusers.

Psychiatry professor Scott Coffey and colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina tested 30 cocaine-dependent and 45 alcohol-dependent volunteers, all of whom also suffered from PTSD resulting from a physical or sexual attack.

They made the volunteers describe their worst trauma on tape, and then played this back to them while presenting them with a drug or alcohol ``cue'' such as a crack pipe or a serving of alcohol.

They then asked each volunteer how badly he or she wanted a drink or a dose of drugs.

Writing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, they said craving increased significantly when participants heard the tape and were then shown cues related to their substance of choice.

``From our research with trauma victims, we know that intrusive trauma memories are very upsetting to patients, and now we have shown that these trauma memory-induced negative emotions increase craving in substance abusers with PTSD,'' Coffey said in a statement.

``These findings add support to our contention that we need to treat the two disorders at the same time.''


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