Using the research domain criteria (RDoC) to conceptualize impulsivity and compulsivity in relation to addiction

Prog Brain Res. 2017;235:177-218. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2017.08.002. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


Nomenclature for mental disorder was updated in 2013 with the publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). In DSM-5, substance use disorders are framed as more dimensional. First, the distinction between abuse and dependence is replaced by substance use. Second, the addictions section now covers both substances and behavioral addictions. This contemporary move toward dimensionality and transdiagnosis in the addictions and other disorders embrace accumulating cognitive-affective neurobiological evidence that is reflected in the United States' National Institutes of Health Research Domain Criteria (NIH RDoC). The RDoC calls for the further development of transdiagnostic approaches to psychopathy and includes five domains to improve research. Additionally, the RDoC suggests that these domains can be measured in terms of specific units of analysis. In line with these suggestions, recent publications have stimulated updated neurobiological conceptualizations of two transdiagnostic concepts, namely impulsivity and compulsivity and their interactions that are applicable to addictive disorders. However, there has not yet been a review to examine the constructs of impulsivity and compulsivity in relation to addiction in light of the research-oriented RDoC. By doing so it may become clearer as to whether impulsivity and compulsivity function antagonistically, complementarily or in some other way at the behavioral, cognitive, and neural level and how this relationship underpins addiction. Thus, here we consider research into impulsivity and compulsivity in light of the transdiagnostic RDoC to help better understand these concepts and their application to evidence-based clinical intervention for addiction.

Keywords: ADHD; Addiction; Compulsivity; Impulsivity; Obsessive–compulsive and related disorders; RDoC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Compulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • United States