Addiction is now recognized as a neurobiological and cognitive brain disorder and is generally viewed as a switch from recreational or voluntary to compulsive substance use despite aversive consequences. The habenula, composed of medial (MHb) and lateral (LHb) domains, has been implicated in regulating behavioral flexibility and anxiety-related behaviors and is considered a core component of the brain “anti-reward” system. These functions position the habenula to influence voluntary behaviors. Consistent with this view, emerging evidence points to alterations in habenula activity as important factors to contributing the loss of control over the use of drugs of abuse and the emergence of compulsive drug seeking behaviors. In this review, we will discuss the general functions of the MHb and LHb and describe how these functional properties allow this brain region to promote or suppress volitional behaviors. Then, we highlight mechanisms by which drugs of abuse may alter habenular activity, precipitating the emergence of addiction-relevant behavioral abnormalities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-111
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Acetylcholine
  • Aversion
  • Avoidance
  • Compulsive drug use
  • Dopamine
  • Drugs of abuse
  • Habenula
  • Motivated behavior
  • Reward
  • Serotonin
  • Substance use disorder


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