Whole-brain white matter abnormalities in human cocaine and heroin use disorders: association with craving, recency, and cumulative use

Pierre Olivier Gaudreault, Sarah G. King, Pias Malaker, Nelly Alia-Klein, Rita Z. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuroimaging studies in substance use disorder have shown widespread impairments in white matter (WM) microstructure suggesting demyelination and axonal damage. However, substantially fewer studies explored the generalized vs. the acute and/or specific drug effects on WM. Our study assessed whole-brain WM integrity in three subgroups of individuals addicted to drugs, encompassing those with cocaine (CUD) or heroin (HUD) use disorder, compared to healthy controls (CTL). Diffusion MRI was acquired in 58 CTL, 28 current cocaine users/CUD+, 32 abstinent cocaine users/CUD−, and 30 individuals with HUD (urine was positive for cocaine in CUD+ and opiates used for treatment in HUD). Tract-Based Spatial Statistics allowed voxelwise analyses of diffusion metrics [fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), radial diffusivity (RD), and axial diffusivity (AD)]. Permutation statistics (p-corrected < 0.05) were used for between-group t-tests. Compared to CTL, all individuals with addiction showed widespread decreases in FA, and increases in MD, RD, and AD (19–57% of WM skeleton, p < 0.05). The HUD group showed the most impairments, followed by the CUD+, with only minor FA reductions in CUD− (<0.2% of WM skeleton, p = 0.05). Longer periods of regular use were associated with decreased FA and AD, and higher subjective craving was associated with increased MD, RD, and AD, across all individuals with drug addiction (p < 0.05). These findings demonstrate extensive WM impairments in individuals with drug addiction characterized by decreased anisotropy and increased diffusivity, thought to reflect demyelination and lower axonal packing. Extensive abnormalities in both groups with positive urine status (CUD+ and HUD), and correlations with craving, suggest greater WM impairments with more recent use. Results in CUD−, and correlations with regular use, further imply cumulative and/or persistent WM damage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)780-791
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


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