Neural systems of reinforcement for drug addiction: from actions to habits to compulsion

Nat Neurosci. 2005 Nov;8(11):1481-9. doi: 10.1038/nn1579.


Drug addiction is increasingly viewed as the endpoint of a series of transitions from initial drug use--when a drug is voluntarily taken because it has reinforcing, often hedonic, effects--through loss of control over this behavior, such that it becomes habitual and ultimately compulsive. Here we discuss evidence that these transitions depend on interactions between pavlovian and instrumental learning processes. We hypothesize that the change from voluntary drug use to more habitual and compulsive drug use represents a transition at the neural level from prefrontal cortical to striatal control over drug seeking and drug taking behavior as well as a progression from ventral to more dorsal domains of the striatum, involving its dopaminergic innervation. These neural transitions may themselves depend on the neuroplasticity in both cortical and striatal structures that is induced by chronic self-administration of drugs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Compulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Habits*
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Phenylacetates
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Phenylacetates
  • Mosher's acid