The somatic marker theory in the context of addiction: contributions to understanding development and maintenance
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Recent theoretical accounts of addiction have acknowledged that addiction to substances and behaviors share inherent similarities (eg, insensitivity to future consequences and self-regulatory deficits). This recognition is corroborated by inquiries into the neurobiological correlates of addiction, which has indicated that different manifestations of addictive pathology share common neural mechanisms. This review of the literature will explore the feasibility of the somatic marker hypothesis as a unifying explanatory framework of the decision-making deficits that are believed to be involved in addiction development and maintenance. The somatic marker hypothesis provides a neuroanatomical and cognitive framework of decision making, which posits that decisional processes are biased toward long-term prospects by emotional marker signals engendered by a neuronal architecture comprising both cortical and subcortical circuits. Addicts display markedly impulsive and compulsive behavioral patterns that might be understood as manifestations of decision-making processes that fail to take into account the long-term consequences of actions. Evidence demonstrates that substance dependence, pathological gambling, and Internet addiction are characterized by structural and functional abnormalities in neural regions, as outlined by the somatic marker hypothesis. Furthermore, both substance dependents and behavioral addicts show similar impairments on a measure of decision making that is sensitive to somatic marker functioning. The decision-making deficits that characterize addiction might exist a priori to addiction development; however, they may be worsened by ingestion of substances with neurotoxic properties. It is concluded that the somatic marker model of addiction contributes a plausible account of the underlying neurobiology of decision-making deficits in addictive disorders that is supported by the current neuroimaging and behavioral evidence. Implications for future research are outlined.