Stages of dysfunctional decision-making in addiction

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Drug use is a choice with immediate positive outcomes, but long-term negative consequences. Thus, the repeated use of drugs in the face of negative consequences suggests dysfunction in the cognitive mechanisms underpinning decision-making. This cognitive dysfunction can be mapped into three stages: the formation of preferences involving valuation of decision options; choice implementation including motivation, self-regulation and inhibitory processes; and feedback processing implicating reinforcement learning. This article reviews behavioral studies that have examined alterations in these three stages of decision-making in people with substance use disorders. Relative to healthy individuals, those with alcohol, cannabis, stimulant and opioid use disorders value risky options more highly during the formation of preferences; have a greater appetite for superficially attractive rewards during choice implementation; and are both more efficient in learning from rewards and less efficient in learning from losses during feedback processing. These observed decision-making deficits are most likely due to both premorbid factors and drug-induced effects. Because decision-making deficits have been prospectively associated with a greater risk of drug relapse, we advocate for greater research on modulating the component stages that give rise to dysfunctional decision-making in disorders of addiction.HighlightsSubstance use disorders (SUD) linked to decision-making alterations.People with SUD have higher valuation of risky options with reward.People with SUD more likely to enact choices based on appealing rewardsPeople with SUD learn less from punishment or history of reinforcement.Treatment research on decision-making remediation therapies needed.

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