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Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2019 Oct;20(2):96-127. doi: 10.1177/1529100619860513.

A Neurobehavioral Approach to Addiction: Implications for the Opioid Epidemic and the Psychology of Addiction.

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Department of Psychology, University of Southern California.
Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California.
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan.
Addiction Recovery Research Center & Center for Transformational Research on Health Behaviors, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion, Roanoke, Virginia.
Department of Anesthesiology, Washington University School of Medicine.
Washington University Pain Center, Washington University School of Medicine.


Two major questions about addictive behaviors need to be explained by any worthwhile neurobiological theory. First, why do people seek drugs in the first place? Second, why do some people who use drugs seem to eventually become unable to resist drug temptation and so become "addicted"? We will review the theories of addiction that address negative-reinforcement views of drug use (i.e., taking opioids to alleviate distress or withdrawal), positive-reinforcement views (i.e., taking drugs for euphoria), habit views (i.e., growth of automatic drug-use routines), incentive-sensitization views (i.e., growth of excessive "wanting" to take drugs as a result of dopamine-related sensitization), and cognitive-dysfunction views (i.e., impaired prefrontal top-down control), including those involving competing neurobehavioral decision systems (CNDS), and the role of the insula in modulating addictive drug craving. In the special case of opioids, particular attention is paid to whether their analgesic effects overlap with their reinforcing effects and whether the perceived low risk of taking legal medicinal opioids, which are often prescribed by a health professional, could play a role in the decision to use. Specifically, we will address the issue of predisposition or vulnerability to becoming addicted to drugs (i.e., the question of why some people who experiment with drugs develop an addiction, while others do not). Finally, we review attempts to develop novel therapeutic strategies and policy ideas that could help prevent opioid and other substance abuse.


decision making; incentive sensitization; insula; opioid abuse


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