The neurobiology of addiction: implications for voluntary control of behavior

Am J Bioeth. 2007 Jan;7(1):8-11. doi: 10.1080/15265160601063969.


There continues to be a debate on whether addiction is best understood as a brain disease or a moral condition. This debate, which may influence both the stigma attached to addiction and access to treatment, is often motivated by the question of whether and to what extent we can justly hold addicted individuals responsible for their actions. In fact, there is substantial evidence for a disease model, but the disease model per se does not resolve the question of voluntary control. Recent research at the intersection of neuroscience and psychology suggests that addicted individuals have substantial impairments in cognitive control of behavior, but this "loss of control" is not complete or simple. Possible mechanisms and implications are briefly reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain Diseases* / metabolism
  • Brain Diseases* / psychology
  • Choice Behavior
  • Compulsive Behavior
  • Cues
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Drive
  • Emotions
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Judgment
  • Neurobiology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Recurrence
  • Reward
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Social Support
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism
  • Volition*


  • Dopamine