Neuroimaging for drug addiction and related behaviors

Rev Neurosci. 2011;22(6):609-24. doi: 10.1515/RNS.2011.055. Epub 2011 Nov 25.


In this review, we highlight the role of neuroimaging techniques in studying the emotional and cognitive-behavioral components of the addiction syndrome by focusing on the neural substrates subserving them. The phenomenology of drug addiction can be characterized by a recurrent pattern of subjective experiences that includes drug intoxication, craving, bingeing, and withdrawal with the cycle culminating in a persistent preoccupation with obtaining, consuming, and recovering from the drug. In the past two decades, imaging studies of drug addiction have demonstrated deficits in brain circuits related to reward and impulsivity. The current review focuses on studies employing positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate these behaviors in drug-addicted human populations. We begin with a brief account of drug addiction followed by a technical account of each of these imaging modalities. We then discuss how these techniques have uniquely contributed to a deeper understanding of addictive behaviors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Brain* / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Mood Disorders / etiology
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology*