Drug use disorders are often accompanied by deficits in the capacity to efficiently process reward-related information and to monitor, suppress, or override reward-controlled behavior when goals are in conflict with aversive or immediate outcomes.
This emerging deficit in behavioral flexibility and impulse control may be a central component of the progression to addiction, as behavior becomes increasingly driven by drugs and drug-associated cues at the expense of more advantageous activities.
Understanding how neural mechanisms implicated in impulse control are affected by addictive drugs may therefore prove a useful strategy in the search for new treatment options. Animal models of impulsivity and addiction could make a significant contribution to this endeavor.
Here, some of the more common behavioral paradigms used to measure different aspects of impulsivity across species are outlined, and the importance of the response to reward-paired cues in such paradigms is discussed.
Naturally occurring differences in forms of impulsivity have been found to be predictive of future drug self-administration, but drug exposure can also increase impulsive responding. Such data are in keeping with the suggestion that impulsivity may contribute to multiple stages within the spiral of addiction.
From a neurobiological perspective, converging evidence from rat, monkey, and human studies suggest that compromised functioning within the orbitofrontal cortex may critically contribute to the cognitive sequelae of drug abuse.
Changes in gene transcription and protein expression within this region may provide insight into the mechanism underlying drug-induced cortical hypofunction, reflecting new molecular targets for the treatment of uncontrolled drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior.
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