Closing the Brain–Heart Loop: Towards More Holistic Models of Addiction and Addiction Recovery

Much research seeks to articulate the brain structures and pathways implicated in addiction and addiction recovery. Prominent neurobiological models emphasize the interplay between cortical and limbic brain regions as a main driver of addictive processes, but largely do not take into consideration sensory and visceral information streams that link context and state to the brain and behavior. Yet these brain–body information streams would seem to be necessary elements of a comprehensive model of addiction. As a starting point, we describe the overlap between one current model of addiction circuitry and the neural network that not only regulates cardiovascular system activity but also receives feedback from peripheral cardiovascular processes through the baroreflex loop. We highlight the need for neurobiological, molecular, and behavioral studies of neural and peripheral cardiovascular signal integration during the experience of internal states and environmental contexts that drive alcohol and other drug use behaviors. We end with a call for systematic, mechanistic research on the promising, yet largely unexamined benefits to addiction treatment of neuroscience‐informed, adjunctive interventions that target the malleability of the cardiovascular system to alter brain processes.

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