Effects of childhood maltreatment on the neural correlates of stress- and drug cue-induced cocaine craving (2015)

Addict Biol. 2015 Jul;20(4):820-31. doi: 10.1111/adb.12162. Epub 2014 Sep 11.

Elton A1, Smitherman S2, Young J2, Kilts CD2.


Childhood adversity negatively influences all stages of the addiction process and is associated with persistent alterations in neuroendocrine, autonomic and brain responses to stress. We sought to characterize the impact of childhood abuse and neglect on the neural correlates of stress- and drug cue-induced drug craving associated with cocaine addiction. Cocaine-dependent men with (n = 20) and without (n = 18) moderate to severe childhood maltreatment histories underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging during script-guided mental imagery of personalized stress, drug use and neutral experiences.

Compared to the neutral script, the stress and drug use scripts activated striatal, prefrontal, posterior cingulate, temporal and cerebellar regions consistent with prior studies of induced states of stress and drug craving. For the stress script, maltreated men exhibited reduced activation of the anterior precuneus and supplementary motor area (SMA); the interaction of maltreatment severity and stress-induced craving responses predicted lesser rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation. For the drug use script, maltreated men exhibited greater left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation. The interaction of maltreatment severity and craving responses was associated with greater activation of the visual cortex and SMA, whereas a maltreatment-by-anxiety interaction effect included lesser ventromedial prefrontal cortex activation.

The outcomes indicate an association of childhood maltreatment with a heightened appetitive anticipatory response to drug cues and a diminished engagement of regulatory and controlled action selection processes in response to stress- or drug cue-induced drug craving and anxiety responses for cocaine-dependent men. These findings provide novel insights into possible brain mechanisms by which childhood maltreatment heightens risk for relapse in drug-dependent individuals.


Addiction; childhood maltreatment; cocaine; drug cues; fMRI; stress