The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in alcohol use, abuse, and dependence

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018 Dec 20;87(Pt A):85-107. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.01.010. Epub 2018 Feb 9.


One of the major functions of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is to promote flexible motivated behavior. It is no surprise, therefore, that recent work has demonstrated a prominent impact of chronic drug use on the OFC and a potential role for OFC disruption in drug abuse and addiction. Among drugs of abuse, the use of alcohol is particularly salient with respect to OFC function. Although a number of studies in humans have implicated OFC dysregulation in alcohol use disorders, animal models investigating the association between OFC and alcohol use are only beginning to be developed, and there is still a great deal to be revealed. The goal of this review is to consider what is currently known regarding the role of the OFC in alcohol use and dependence. I will first provide a brief, general overview of current views of OFC function and its contributions to drug seeking and addiction. I will then discuss research to date related to the OFC and alcohol use, both in human clinical populations and in non-human models. Finally I will consider issues and strategies to guide future study that may identify this brain region as a key player in the transition from moderated to problematic alcohol use and dependence.

Keywords: Addiction; Alcohol use disorders; Alcoholism; Behavioral flexibility; Cognitive dysfunction; Decision-making; Ethanol; Orbital; Prefrontal; Reversal learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*