Impulsivity, frontal lobes and risk for addiction.

Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, United States.
Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.82). 06/2009; 93(3):237-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2009.04.018
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Alcohol and substance abuse disorders involve continued use of substances despite negative consequences, i.e. loss of behavioral control of drug use. The frontal-cortical areas of the brain oversee behavioral control through executive functions. Executive functions include abstract thinking, motivation, planning, attention to tasks and inhibition of impulsive responses. Impulsiveness generally refers to premature, unduly risky, poorly conceived actions. Dysfunctional impulsivity includes deficits in attention, lack of reflection and/or insensitivity to consequences, all of which occur in addiction [Evenden JL. Varieties of impulsivity. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 1999;146:348-361.; de Wit H. Impulsivity as a determinant and consequence of drug use: a review of underlying processes. Addict Biol 2009;14:22-31]. Binge drinking models indicate chronic alcohol damages in the corticolimbic brain regions [Crews FT, Braun CJ, Hoplight B, Switzer III RC, Knapp DJ. Binge ethanol consumption causes differential brain damage in young adolescent rats compared with adult rats. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2000;24:1712-1723] causing reversal learning deficits indicative of loss of executive function [Obernier JA, White AM, Swartzwelder HS, Crews FT. Cognitive deficits and CNS damage after a 4-day binge ethanol exposure in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2002b;72:521-532]. Genetics and adolescent age are risk factors for alcoholism that coincide with sensitivity to alcohol-induced neurotoxicity. Cortical degeneration from alcohol abuse may increase impulsivity contributing to the development, persistence and severity of alcohol use disorders. Interestingly, abstinence results in bursts of neurogenesis and brain regrowth [Crews FT, Nixon K. Mechanisms of neurodegeneration and regeneration in alcoholism. Alcohol Alcohol 2009;44:115-127]. Treatments for alcoholism, including naltrexone pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy may work through improving executive functions. This review will examine the relationships between impulsivity and executive function behaviors to changes in cortical structure during alcohol dependence and recovery.

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