Habitual Alcohol Seeking: Neural Bases and Possible Relations to Alcohol Use Disorders

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Abstract

Loss of flexible control over alcohol use may contribute to the development of alcohol use disorders. An increased contribution of response habits to alcohol-related behaviors may help explain this loss of control. Focusing on data from outcome devaluation and Pavlovian–instrumental transfer procedures, we review evidence for loss of goal-directed control over alcohol seeking and consumption drawing from both preclinical findings and clinical data where they exist. Over the course of extended alcohol self-administration and exposure, the performance of alcohol-seeking responses becomes less sensitive to reduction in the value of alcohol and more vulnerable to the influences of alcohol-predictive stimuli. These behavioral changes are accompanied by a shift in the corticostriatal circuits that control responding from circuits centered on the dorsomedial to those centered on the dorsolateral striatum. These changes in behavioral and neural control could help explain failures to abstain from alcohol despite intention to do so. Understanding and ultimately ameliorating these changes will aid development of more effective treatment interventions.

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