Decision Making, Impulse Control and Loss of Willpower to Resist Drugs: A Neurocognitive Perspective

Institute for the Neurological Study of Emotion and Creativity, Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-2520, USA.
Nature Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 16.1). 12/2005; 8(11):1458-63. DOI: 10.1038/nn1584
Source: PubMed


Here I argue that addicted people become unable to make drug-use choices on the basis of long-term outcome, and I propose a neural framework that explains this myopia for future consequences. I suggest that addiction is the product of an imbalance between two separate, but interacting, neural systems that control decision making: an impulsive, amygdala system for signaling pain or pleasure of immediate prospects, and a reflective, prefrontal cortex system for signaling pain or pleasure of future prospects. After an individual learns social rules, the reflective system controls the impulsive system via several mechanisms. However, this control is not absolute; hyperactivity within the impulsive system can override the reflective system. I propose that drugs can trigger bottom-up, involuntary signals originating from the amygdala that modulate, bias or even hijack the goal-driven cognitive resources that are needed for the normal operation of the reflective system and for exercising the willpower to resist drugs.

63 Reads
  • Source
    • "Substantially weakened PFC function could, in turn, further disinhibit limbic-striatal responses especially under challenging situations, including stress and exposure to alcohol-related cues. In addition, given the crucial role of the PFC in inhibitory control and decisionmaking (Bechara 2005; Goldstein and Volkow 2011), altered PFC function could result in an inability to inhibit compulsive alcohol seeking and poor decisionmaking when confronted with the choice to return to drinking and continued alcohol use despite negative consequences, thereby aggravating the relapse cycle. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Chronic alcohol-related neuroadaptations in key neural circuits of emotional and cognitive control play a critical role in the development of, and recovery from, alcoholism. Converging evidence in the neurobiological literature indicates that neuroplastic changes in the prefrontal-striatal-limbic circuit, which governs emotion regulation and decisionmaking and controls physiological responses in the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis system, contribute to chronic alcoholism and also are significant predictors of relapse and recovery. This paper reviews recent evidence on the neuroplasticity associated with alcoholism in humans, including acute and chronic effects, and how these neurobiological adaptations contribute to alcohol recovery, along with the discussion of relevant clinical implications and future research directions.
    Alcohol research : current reviews 09/2015; 37(1):143-152.
    • "Furthermore, feedback can trigger emotional reactions, such as emotional learning about the available options. Emotional signals developed in the body periphery (''somatic markers''; Bechara and Damasio 2005) may then intuitively bias future decisions (see Fig. 1 for the model). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In decisions under objective risk conditions information about the decision options' possible outcomes and the rules for outcomes' occurrence are provided. Thus, deciders can base decision-making strategies on probabilistic laws. In many laboratory decision-making tasks, choosing the option with the highest winning probability in all trials (=maximization strategy) is probabilistically regarded the most rational behavior. However, individuals often behave less optimal, especially in case the individuals have lower cognitive functions or in case no feedback about consequences is provided in the situation. It is still unclear which cognitive functions particularly predispose individuals for using successful strategies and which strategies profit from feedback. We investigated 195 individuals with two decision-making paradigms, the Game of Dice Task (GDT) (with and without feedback), and the Card Guessing Game. Thereafter, participants reported which strategies they had applied. Interaction effects (feedback × strategy), effect sizes, and uncorrected single group comparisons suggest that feedback in the GDT tended to be more beneficial to individuals reporting exploratory strategies (e.g., use intuition). In both tasks, the self-reported use of more principled and more rational strategies was accompanied by better decision-making performance and better performances in reasoning and executive functioning tasks. The strategy groups did not significantly differ in most short-term and working-memory tasks. Thus, particularly individual differences in reasoning and executive functions seem to predispose individuals toward particular decision-making strategies. Feedback seems to be useful for individuals who rather explore the decision-making situation instead of following a certain plan.
    Cognitive Processing 08/2015; DOI:10.1007/s10339-015-0665-1 · 1.57 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "Thus, in the present study, it was tested whether observing drug-related cues such as the preparation and actual use of the drug in alcohol advertisement may be particularly potent in eliciting cue reactivity among alcohol-dependent patients. The conditioned reward circuitry response to drug-related cues is accompanied by activity of the autonomous nervous system (Bechara 2005). Parasympathetic nervous system activity in response to external stimulation can be measured using the High-frequency (HF) heart rate variability (HRV) component (Thayer and Lane 2000). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The present study investigated the nature of physiological cue reactivity and craving in response to alcohol cues among alcohol-dependent patients (N = 80) who were enrolled in detoxification treatment. Further, the predictive value with regard to future drinking of both the magnitude of the physiological and craving response to alcohol cues while in treatment and the degree of alcohol-cue exposure in patients' natural environment was assessed. Physiological reactivity and craving in response to experimental exposure to alcohol and soft drink advertisements were measured during detoxification treatment using heart rate variability and subjective rating of craving. Following discharge, patients monitored exposure to alcohol advertisements for five consecutive weeks with a diary and were followed up with an assessment of relapse at 5 weeks and 3 months post-discharge. The results indicated that the presence of alcohol cues such as the portrayal of the drug and drinking behaviour induced physiological cue reactivity and craving. Additionally, cue reactivity and craving were positively correlated, and cue reactivity was larger for patients with shorter histories of alcohol dependence. Further, patients reported a substantial daily exposure to alcohol cues. The magnitude of cue reactivity and the craving response to alcohol cues at baseline and degree of exposure to alcohol cues in patients' natural environment did not predict relapse. It is concluded that the presence of alcohol cues such as portrayal of alcoholic beverages and drinking behaviour induces cue reactivity and craving in alcohol dependence through a conditioned appetitive response.
    Psychopharmacology 08/2015; 232(20). DOI:10.1007/s00213-015-4027-6 · 3.88 Impact Factor
Show more

Preview (2 Sources)

63 Reads
Available from