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Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. Here we review studies that indicate that compulsive drug use, and in particular punishment resistance in animal models of addiction, is related to impaired cortical control over habitual behavior. In humans and animals, instrumental behavior is supported by goal-directed and habitual systems that rely on distinct corticostriatal networks. Chronic exposure to addictive drugs or stress has been shown to bias instrumental response strategies toward habit learning, and impair prefrontal cortical (PFC) control over responding. Moreover, recent work has implicated prelimbic PFC hypofunction in the punishment resistance that has been observed in a subset of animals with an extended history of cocaine self-administration. This may be related to a broader role for prelimbic PFC in mediating adaptive responding and behavioral flexibility, including exerting goal-directed control over behavior. We hypothesize that impaired cortical control and reduced flexibility between habitual and goal-directed systems may be critically involved in the development of maladaptive, compulsive drug use.Compulsive drug use is thought to arise from impaired cortical control over habits.Instrumental behavior is supported by goal-directed and habitual systems.Chronic drug or stress exposure biases toward habit learning.Impaired prefrontal cortex contributes to compulsive cocaine use in animals models.Prelimbic prefrontal cortex mediates adaptive responding and behavioral flexibility.