The neuropsychological basis of addictive behaviour

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2001 Oct;36(2-3):129-38. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(01)00088-1.


The argument advanced in this review is that drug addiction can be understood in terms of normal learning and memory systems of the brain which, through the actions of chronically self-administered drugs, are pathologically subverted, thereby leading to the establishment of compulsive drug-seeking habits, strengthened by the motivational impact of drug-associated stimuli and occurring at the expense of other sources of reinforcement. We review data from our studies that have utilized procedures which reveal the various influences of pavlovian stimuli on goal-directed behaviour, namely discriminated approach, pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer and conditioned reinforcement, in order to demonstrate their overlapping and also unique neural bases. These fundamental studies are also reviewed in the context of the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying drug-seeking behaviour that is under the control of drug-associated environmental stimuli. The ways in which such drug-seeking behaviour becomes compulsive and habitual, as well as the propensity for relapse to drug-seeking even after long periods of relapse, are discussed in terms of the aberrant learning set in train by the effects of self-administered drugs on plastic processes in limbic cortical-ventral striatal systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Compulsive Behavior / pathology
  • Compulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Limbic System / drug effects*
  • Limbic System / pathology
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Dopamine