The persistence of maladaptive memory: addiction, drug memories and anti-relapse treatments

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Apr;36(4):1119-39. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.01.002. Epub 2012 Jan 24.


Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder, characterised by the long-term propensity of addicted individuals to relapse. A major factor that obstructs the attainment of abstinence is the persistence of maladaptive drug-associated memories, which can maintain drug-seeking and taking behaviour and promote unconscious relapse of these habits. Thus, addiction can be conceptualised as a disorder of aberrant learning of the formation of strong instrumental memories linking actions to drug-seeking and taking outcomes that ultimately are expressed as persistent stimulus-response habits; of previously neutral environmental stimuli that become associated with drug highs (and/or withdrawal states) through pavlovian conditioning, and of the subsequent interactions between pavlovian and instrumental memories to influence relapse behaviour. Understanding the psychological, neurobiological and molecular basis of these drug memories may produce new methods of pro-abstinence, anti-relapse treatments for addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*