The neurobiology of successful abstinence

Garavan, H and Brennan, KL and Hester, R and Whelan, R
Current opinion in neurobiology, 23(4): 668—674, 2013

This review focuses on the neurobiological processes involved in achieving successful abstinence from drugs of abuse. While there is clinical and public health value in knowing if the deficits associated with drug use correct with abstinence, studying the neurobiology that underlies successful abstinence can also illuminate the processes that enable drug-dependent individuals to successfully quit. Here, we review studies on human addicts that assess the neurobiological changes that arise with abstinence and the neurobiological predictors of successfully avoiding relapse. The literature, while modest in size, suggests that abstinence is associated with improvement in prefrontal structure and function, which may underscore the importance of prefrontally mediated cognitive control processes in avoiding relapse. Given the implication that the prefrontal cortex may be an important target for therapeutic interventions, we also review evidence indicating the efficacy of cognitive control training for abstinence.


► We review the changes in brain structure and function that arise with abstinence. ► We review the pretreatment neurobiological predictors of abstinence. ► We discuss the potential of cognitive training of frontal systems for abstinence.