A core deficit in drug addiction is the inability to inhibit maladaptive drug-seeking behavior. Consistent with this deficit, drug-addicted individuals show reliable cross-sectional differences from healthy nonaddicted controls during tasks of response inhibition accompanied by brain activation abnormalities as revealed by functional neuroimaging. However, it is less clear whether inhibition-related deficits predate the transition to problematic use, and, in turn, whether these deficits predict the transition out of problematic substance use. Here, we review longitudinal studies of response inhibition in children/adolescents with little substance experience and longitudinal studies of already addicted individuals attempting to sustain abstinence. Results show that response inhibition and its underlying neural correlates predict both substance use outcomes (onset and abstinence). Neurally, key roles were observed for multiple regions of the frontal cortex (e.g., inferior frontal gyrus, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). In general, less activation of these regions during response inhibition predicted not only the onset of substance use, but interestingly also better abstinence-related outcomes among individuals already addicted. The role of subcortical areas, although potentially important, is less clear because of inconsistent results and because these regions are less classically reported in studies of healthy response inhibition. Overall, this review indicates that response inhibition is not simply a manifestation of current drug addiction, but rather a core neurocognitive dimension that predicts key substance use outcomes. Early intervention in inhibitory deficits could have high clinical and public health relevance.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855


  • Clinical outcome
  • Developmental trajectories
  • Drug addiction
  • Inhibitory control
  • Longitudinal designs
  • Response inhibition
  • fMRI


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