Young adults at risk for stimulant dependence show reward dysfunction during reinforcement-based decision making

  • Stewart J
  • Flagan T
  • May A
 et al. 
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Background: While stimulant-dependent individuals continue to make risky decisions, in spite of poor outcomes, much less is known about decision-making characteristics of occasional stimulant users (OSU) at risk for developing stimulant dependence. This study examines whether OSU exhibit inefficient learning and execution of reinforced decision-outcome contingencies. Methods: Occasional stimulant users (n = 161) and stimulant-naïve comparison subjects (CTL) (n = 48) performed a Paper Scissors Rock task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Selecting a particular option was associated with a predetermined probability of winning, which was altered repeatedly to examine neural and behavioral characteristics of reinforced contingencies. Results: Occasional stimulant users displayed greater anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, and dorsal striatum activation than CTL during late trials when contingencies were familiar (as opposed to being learned) in the presence of comparable behavioral performance in both groups. Follow-up analyses demonstrated that during late trials: 1) OSU with high cannabis use displayed greater activation in these brain regions than CTL, whereas OSU with low cannabis use did not differ from the other two groups; and 2) OSU preferring cocaine exhibited greater anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, and dorsal striatum activation than CTL and also displayed higher activation in the former two regions than OSU who preferred prescription stimulants. Conclusions: Occasional stimulant users exhibit inefficient resource allocation during the execution of reinforced contingencies that may be a result of additive effects of cocaine and cannabis use. A critical next step is to establish whether this inefficiency predicts transition to stimulant dependence. © 2013 Society of Biological Psychiatry.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Amphetamine
  • decision making
  • dorsal striatum
  • fMRI
  • reward
  • stimulants

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  • April MayUniversity of California San Diego

  • Jennifer L. Stewart

  • Taru M. Flagan

  • Martina Reske

  • Alan N. Simmons

  • Martin P. Paulus

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