Machine Learning of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Network Connectivity Predicts Substance Abuse Treatment Completion

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2018 Feb;3(2):141-149. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2017.07.003. Epub 2017 Aug 1.


Background: Successfully treating illicit drug use has become paramount, yet elusive. Devising specialized treatment interventions could increase positive outcomes, but it is necessary to identify risk factors of poor long-term outcomes to develop specialized, efficacious treatments. We investigated whether functional network connectivity (FNC) measures were predictive of substance abuse treatment completion using machine learning pattern classification of functional magnetic resonance imaging data.

Methods: Treatment-seeking stimulant- or heroin-dependent incarcerated participants (n = 139; 89 women) volunteered for a 12-week substance abuse treatment program. Participants performed a response inhibition Go/NoGo functional magnetic resonance imaging task prior to onset of the substance abuse treatment. We tested whether FNC related to the anterior cingulate cortex would be predictive of those who would or would not complete a 12-week substance abuse treatment program.

Results: Machine learning pattern classification models using FNC between networks incorporating the anterior cingulate cortex, striatum, and insula predicted which individuals would (sensitivity: 81.31%) or would not (specificity: 78.13%) complete substance abuse treatment. FNC analyses predicted treatment completion above and beyond other clinical assessment measures, including age, sex, IQ, years of substance use, psychopathy, anxiety and depressive symptomatology, and motivation for change.

Conclusions: Aberrant neural network connections predicted substance abuse treatment outcomes, which could illuminate new targets for developing interventions designed to reduce or eliminate substance use while facilitating long-term outcomes. This work represents the first application of machine-learning models of FNC analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging data to predict which substance abusers would or would not complete treatment.

Keywords: Drug treatment; Error processing; ICA; Machine learning; Prediction; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants