Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Main Articles

A unified framework for addiction: Vulnerabilities in the decision process

A. David Redisha1, Steve Jensena2 and Adam Johnsona3

a1 Department of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455

a2 Graduate Program in Computer Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455

a3 Graduate Program in Neuroscience and Center for Cognitive Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455


The understanding of decision-making systems has come together in recent years to form a unified theory of decision-making in the mammalian brain as arising from multiple, interacting systems (a planning system, a habit system, and a situation-recognition system). This unified decision-making system has multiple potential access points through which it can be driven to make maladaptive choices, particularly choices that entail seeking of certain drugs or behaviors. We identify 10 key vulnerabilities in the system: (1) moving away from homeostasis, (2) changing allostatic set points, (3) euphorigenic “reward-like” signals, (4) overvaluation in the planning system, (5) incorrect search of situation-action-outcome relationships, (6) misclassification of situations, (7) overvaluation in the habit system, (8) a mismatch in the balance of the two decision systems, (9) over-fast discounting processes, and (10) changed learning rates. These vulnerabilities provide a taxonomy of potential problems with decision-making systems. Although each vulnerability can drive an agent to return to the addictive choice, each vulnerability also implies a characteristic symptomology. Different drugs, different behaviors, and different individuals are likely to access different vulnerabilities. This has implications for an individual's susceptibility to addiction and the transition to addiction, for the potential for relapse, and for the potential for treatment.

A. David Redish is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Redish has published computational and theoretical papers on neural mechanisms of navigation, memory, decision-making, and addiction, as well as experimental papers on neural information processing patterns in hippocampus and striatum during behavioral tasks. He is the author of Beyond the Cognitive Map: From Place Cells to Episodic Memory (MIT Press, 1999).

Steven L. Jensen is a graduate student in Computer Science and Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, and Principal Scientist in the Neuromodulation Research Group at Medtronic, Inc. He holds several patents related to implantable medical device technology and has several publications related to Computational Neuroscience.

Adam Johnson is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and a member of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience and the Center for Cognitive Sciences. He has contributed to several publications on the search for cognitive function within neural circuits.