Stimulant use and sexual behaviors have been linked in behavioral and epidemiological studies. Although methamphetamine-related neurofunctional differences have been investigated, few studies have examined neural responses to drug and sexual cues with respect to shorter or longer term methamphetamine abstinence in individuals with methamphetamine dependence.
Forty-nine men with shorter term methamphetamine abstinence, 50 men with longer term methamphetamine abstinence, and 47 non-drug-using healthy comparison men completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging cue-reactivity task consisting of methamphetamine, sexual, and neutral visual cues.
Region-of-interest analyses revealed greater methamphetamine cue-related activation in shorter term methamphetamine abstinence and longer term methamphetamine abstinence individuals relative to healthy comparison men in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. A significant interaction of group and condition in the anterior insula was found. Relative to healthy comparison participants, both shorter term methamphetamine abstinence and longer term methamphetamine abstinence groups displayed greater sexual cue-related anterior insula activation relative to methamphetamine cues and neutral cues, but there were no differences between shorter term methamphetamine abstinence and longer term methamphetamine abstinence groups in anterior insula responses. Subsequent whole-brain analyses indicated a group-by-condition interaction with longer term methamphetamine abstinence participants showing greater sexual-related activation in the left superior frontal cortex relative to healthy comparison men. Shorter term methamphetamine abstinence participants showed greater superior frontal cortex activation to sexual relative to neutral cues, and longer term methamphetamine abstinence participants showed greater superior frontal cortex activation to sexual relative to neutral and methamphetamine cues.
The findings suggest that abstinence from methamphetamine may alter how individuals respond to drug and sexual cues and thus may influence drug use and sexual behaviors. Given the use of methamphetamine for sexual purposes and responses to natural vs drug rewards for addiction recovery, the findings may have particular clinical relevance.

© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of CINP.