Convergent pharmacological mechanisms in impulsivity and addiction: insights from rodent models

Br J Pharmacol. 2014 Oct;171(20):4729-66. doi: 10.1111/bph.12787. Epub 2014 Sep 5.


Research over the last two decades has widely demonstrated that impulsivity, in its various forms, is antecedent to the development of drug addiction and an important behavioural trait underlying the inability of addicts to refrain from continued drug use. Impulsivity describes a variety of rapidly and prematurely expressed behaviours that span several domains from impaired response inhibition to an intolerance of delayed rewards, and is a core symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other brain disorders. Various theories have been advanced to explain how impulsivity interacts with addiction both causally and as a consequence of chronic drug abuse; these acknowledge the strong overlaps in neural circuitry and mechanisms between impulsivity and addiction and the seemingly paradoxical treatment of ADHD with stimulant drugs with high abuse potential. Recent years have witnessed unprecedented progress in the elucidation of pharmacological mechanisms underpinning impulsivity. Collectively, this work has significantly improved the prospect for new therapies in ADHD as well as our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying the shift from recreational drug use to addiction. In this review, we consider the extent to which pharmacological interventions that target impulsive behaviour are also effective in animal models of addiction. We highlight several promising examples of convergence based on empirical findings in rodent-based studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior* / drug effects
  • Impulsive Behavior* / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / metabolism


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants