Drug addiction: the neurobiology of disrupted self-control


The nature of addiction is often debated along moral versus biological lines. However, recent advances in neuroscience offer insights that might help bridge the gap between these opposing views. Current evidence shows that most drugs of abuse exert their initial reinforcing effects by inducing dopamine surges in limbic regions, affecting other neurotransmitter systems and leading to characteristic plastic adaptations. Importantly, there seem to be intimate relationships between the circuits disrupted by abused drugs and those that underlie self-control. Significant changes can be detected in circuits implicated in reward, motivation and/or drive, salience attribution, inhibitory control and memory consolidation. Therefore, addiction treatments should attempt to reduce the rewarding properties of drugs while enhancing those of alternative reinforcers, inhibit conditioned memories and strengthen cognitive control. We posit that the time has come to recognize that the process of addiction erodes the same neural scaffolds that enable self-control and appropriate decision making.

Source: Trends in Molecular Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 12, 559-566, 1 December 2006

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