A new report suggests that men with a history of substance abuse have a different amount of gray matter in the brain than men with a tendency for violent behavior. Research points to several factors as the cause of violent behavior, including social stressors, psychological issues and even biological factors. Previous studies have examined the brains of people with violent behaviors before, but there is relatively little information thus far. “The interpretation of studies of the brain morphology of violent offenders is further limited by the fact that most of these men present with substance use (SUD),” write the authors. “Thus, teasing apart alterations in brain structure associated with persistent violent behavior and those associated with SUDs presents an ongoing challenge.”
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany and looked at the brain images of violent men who presented with SUDs and those without. It also included men who did not display violent behavior, with and without SUDs. The participants were selected from prisons and hospitals, as well psychiatric programs and agencies. The subjects were all evaluated by psychiatrists for underlying mental health problems, including impulsivity, psychopathy and aggressive tendencies. The participants, all men between the ages of 23 and 54 years old, were given MRI’s to determine the amount of gray matter present in their brains.
The results showed that there was a larger presence of gray matter in men with violent behavior, whether or not they were substance users. Additionally, the men who had no violent tendencies all showed a decrease in gray matter regardless of whether they had substance use issues or not. Those with more gray matter were more prone to continued violence, and those with SUDs displayed problems with response inhibition. The authors believe additional research is necessary “to link the observed structural abnormalities to specific deficits in functioning assessed by both neuropsychological tests and behavior in the real world and to the interactions of genes and environmental factors.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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