Aberrant learning and memory in addiction (2012)

Comments: One of many research reviews that states that addiction is cause by normal processes, such as over-learning. This points to – 1) all addictions involving the same mechanisms, and 2) addictions are not caused by the toxic effects of drugs.

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2011 Nov;96(4):609-23.

Torregrossa MM, Corlett PR, Taylor JR.


Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06508, USA.


Over the past several years, drug addiction has increasingly been accepted to be a disease of the brain as opposed to simply being due to a lack of willpower or personality flaw. Exposure to addictive substances has been shown to create enduring changes in brain structure and function that are thought to underlie the transition to addiction. Specific genetic and environmental vulnerability factors also influence the impact of drugs of abuse on the brain and can enhance the likelihood of becoming an addict.

Long-lasting alterations in brain function have been found in neural circuits that are known to be responsible for normal appetitive learning and memory processes and it has been hypothesized that drugs of abuse enhance positive learning and memory about the drug while inhibiting learning about the negative consequences of drug use.

Therefore, the addict’s behavior becomes increasingly directed towards obtaining and using drugs of abuse, while at the same time developing a poorer ability to stop using, even when the drug is less rewarding or interferes with functioning in other facets of life. In this review we will discuss the clinical evidence that addicted individuals have altered learning and memory and describe the possible neural substrates of this dysfunction. In addition, we will explore the pre-clinical evidence that drugs of abuse cause a progressive disorder of learning and memory, review the molecular and neurobiological changes that may underlie this disorder, determine the genetic and environmental factors that may increase vulnerability to addiction, and suggest potential strategies for treating addiction through manipulations of learning and memory.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.