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: 14.98). 12/2005; 8(11):1458-63. DOI: 10.1038/nn1584
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. The identification of biomarkers that render individuals vulnerable for the transition from occasional drug use to addiction is of key importance to develop early intervention strategies. The aim of the present study was to prospectively assess brain structural markers for escalating drug use in two independent samples of occasional amphetamine-type stimulant users. At baseline occasional users of amphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (cumulative lifetime use ≤10 units) underwent structural brain imaging and were followed up at 12 months and 24 months (Study 1, n = 38; Study 2, n = 28). Structural vulnerability markers for escalating amphetamine-type drug use were examined by comparing baseline grey matter volumes of participants who increased use with those who maintained or reduced use during the follow-up period. Participants in both samples who subsequently increased amphetamine-type drugs use displayed smaller medial prefrontal cortex volumes and, additionally, in the basolateral amygdala (Study 1) and dorsal striatum (Study 2). In both samples the baseline volumes were significantly negatively correlated with stimulant use during the subsequent 12 and 24 months. Additional multiple regression analyses on the pooled data sets revealed some evidence of a compound-specific association between the baseline volume of the left basolateral amygdala and the subsequent use of amphetamine. These findings indicate that smaller brain volumes in fronto-striato-limbic regions implicated in impulsivity and decision-making might render an individual vulnerable for the transition from occasional to escalating amphetamine-type stimulant use. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:
    Brain 05/2015; DOI:10.1093/brain/awv113 · 10.23 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to examine the impact of different neural systems on monetary decision making in frequent poker gamblers, who vary in their degree of problem gambling. Fifteen frequent poker players, ranging from non-problem to high-problem gambling, and 15 non-gambler controls were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). During IGT deck selection, between-group fMRI analyses showed that frequent poker gamblers exhibited higher ventral-striatal but lower dorsolateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal activations as compared with controls. Moreover, using functional connectivity analyses, we observed higher ventral-striatal connectivity in poker players, and in regions involved in attentional/motor control (posterior cingulate), visual (occipital gyrus) and auditory (temporal gyrus) processing. In poker gamblers, scores of problem gambling severity were positively associated with ventral-striatal activations and with the connectivity between the ventral-striatum seed and the occipital fusiform gyrus and the middle temporal gyrus. Present results are consistent with findings from recent brain imaging studies showing that gambling disorder is associated with heightened motivational-reward processes during monetary decision making, which may hamper one's ability to moderate his level of monetary risk taking. © 2015 Society for the Study of Addiction.
    Addiction Biology 03/2015; DOI:10.1111/adb.12239 · 5.93 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Alcohol-dependent patients have been shown to faster approach than avoid alcohol stimuli on the Approach Avoidance Task (AAT). This so-called alcohol approach bias has been associated with increased brain activation in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. Cognitive bias modification (CBM) has been used to retrain the approach bias with the clinically relevant effect of decreasing relapse rates one year later. The effects of CBM on neural signatures of approach/avoidance tendencies remain hitherto unknown. In a double-blind placebo-controlled design, 26 alcohol-dependent in-patients were assigned to a CBM or a placebo training group. Both groups performed the AAT for three weeks: in CBM training, patients pushed away 90 percent of alcohol cues; this rate was 50 percent in placebo training. Before and after training, patients performed the AAT offline, and in a 3 T magnetic resonance imaging scanner. The relevant neuroimaging contrast for the alcohol approach bias was the difference between approaching versus avoiding alcohol cues relative to soft drink cues: [(alcohol pull > alcohol push) > (soft drink pull > soft drink push)]. Before training, both groups showed significant alcohol approach bias-related activation in the medial prefrontal cortex. After training, patients in the CBM group showed stronger reductions in medial prefrontal cortex activation compared with the placebo group. Moreover, these reductions correlated with reductions in approach bias scores in the CBM group only. This suggests that CBM affects neural mechanisms involved in the automatic alcohol approach bias, which may be important for the clinical effectiveness of CBM.
    Addiction Biology 02/2015; DOI:10.1111/adb.12221 · 5.93 Impact Factor


Available from