A wealth of research from the past two decades shows that addictive behaviors are
characterized by attentional biases for substance-related stimuli. We review the relevant
evidence and present an integration of existing theoretical models to explain the
development, causes, and consequences of addiction-related attentional biases. We
suggest that through classical conditioning, substance-related stimuli elicit the
expectancy of substance availability, and this expectancy causes both attentional
bias for substance-related stimuli and subjective craving. Furthermore, attentional
bias and craving have a mutual excitatory relationship such that increases in one
lead to increases in the other, a process that is likely to result in substance self-administration.
Cognitive avoidance strategies, impulsivity, and impaired inhibitory control appear
to influence the strength of attentional biases and subjective craving. However, some
measures of attentional bias, particularly the addiction Stroop, might reflect multiple
underlying processes, so results need to be interpreted cautiously. We make several
predictions that require testing in future research, and we discuss implications for
the treatment of addictive behaviors.