Habit, choice, and addiction

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021 Mar;46(4):689-698. doi: 10.1038/s41386-020-00899-y. Epub 2020 Nov 9.


Addiction was suggested to emerge from the progressive dominance of habits over goal-directed behaviors. However, it is generally assumed that habits do not persist in choice settings. Therefore, it is unclear how drug habits may persist in real-world scenarios where this factor predominates. Here, we discuss the poor translational validity of the habit construct, which impedes our ability to determine its role in addiction. New evidence of habitual behavior in a drug choice setting are then described and discussed. Interestingly, habitual preference did not promote drug choice but instead favored abstinence. Here, we propose several clues to reconcile these unexpected results with the habit theory of addiction, and we highlight the need in experimental research to face the complexity of drug addicts' decision-making environments by investigating drug habits in the context of choice and in the presence of cues. On a theoretical level, we need to consider more complex frameworks, taking into account continuous interactions between goal-directed and habitual systems, and alternative decision-making models more representative of real-world conditions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Cues
  • Habits
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Substance-Related Disorders*