Compulsivity in alcohol use disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder: Implications for neuromodulation

Elisabetta Burchi, Nikolaos Makris, Mary Lee, Stefano Pallanti, Eric Hollander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Alcohol use Disorder (AUD) is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The progression of the disorder is associated with the development of compulsive alcohol use, which in turn contributes to the high relapse rate and poor longer term functioning reported in most patients, even with treatment. While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines AUD by a cluster of symptoms, parsing its heterogeneous phenotype by domains of behavior such as compulsivity may be a critical step to improve outcomes of this condition. Still, neurobiological underpinnings of compulsivity need to be fully elucidated in AUD in order to better design targeted treatment strategies. In this manuscript, we review and discuss findings supporting common mechanisms between AUD and OCD, dissecting the construct of compulsivity and focusing specifically on characteristic disruptions in habit learning and cognitive control in the two disorders. Finally, neuromodulatory interventions are proposed as a probe to test compulsivity as key pathophysiologic feature of AUD, and as a potential therapy for the subgroup of individuals with compulsive alcohol use, i.e., the more resistant stage of the disorder. This transdiagnostic approach may help to destigmatize the disorder, and suggest potential treatment targets across different conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number70
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
StatePublished - Jan 30 2019


  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Cognitive control
  • Compulsivity
  • Habit learning
  • Neuromodulation
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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