Habit Learning and Addiction

  • Enrico Patrono
  • Hisao Nishijo
  • Antonella Gasbarri
  • Assunta Pompili
  • Carlos Tomaz


Drug addiction is a chronic compulsion and relapsing disorder defined as a “pathological pattern of use of a substance”, and characterized by the loss of control in drug-taking-related behaviors, the pursuance of those behaviors even in the presence of negative consequences, and a strongly motivated desire to consume substances. Several brain areas and circuits are involved, encoding cognitive functions such as reward, motivation, and memory. Addiction research has moved the focus to those psycho-neurobiological mechanisms that have a crucial role on the transition from an occasional use to the abuse of drugs. It has been hypothesized that drug addiction may start as a “goal-directed behavior”; later, with the maintenance of the “instrumental behavior”, it can turn into a “habitual behavior”, inducing a form of habit-based learning. At a brain level, it has been suggested that DA-ergic/GLU-ergic/NE-ergic meso-cortico-limbic transmission may have a crucial role in the pathological habit-based learning of a drug-seeking behavior.

The present chapter reviews the more recent studies on drug addiction, investigating the psycho-neurobiological hypotheses concerning what drives the transition from an occasional use to abuse of drugs. Then, a “habit learning” theory of drug addiction is described. Further, the possibility of an engagement of different memory systems in a “learned drug-seeking” behavior is discussed. The next section describes the role of prefrontal NE-ergic neurotransmission in drug addiction. Finally, the chapter raises some questions about a conceptual framework linking pathological learning with memory and drug addiction.


Drug addiction Habit-learning Habit-memory Mesocorticolimbic reward system 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enrico Patrono
    • 1
  • Hisao Nishijo
    • 1
  • Antonella Gasbarri
    • 2
  • Assunta Pompili
    • 2
  • Carlos Tomaz
    • 3
  1. 1.System Emotional Science, Graduate School of Medicine and Pharmaceutical SciencesUniversity of ToyamaToyamaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Applied Clinical Science and BiotechnologyUniversity of L’Aquila, CoppitoL’AquilaItaly
  3. 3.Neuroscience Research GroupCEUMA University, UNICEUMASão LuisBrazil

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