The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive-sensitization view

Addiction. 2000 Aug:95 Suppl 2:S91-117. doi: 10.1080/09652140050111681.


The question of addiction specifically concerns (1), the process by which drug-taking behavior, in certain individuals, evolves into compulsive patterns of drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior that take place at the expense of most other activities and (2), the inability to cease drug-taking; the problem of relapse. In this paper current biopsychological views of addiction are critically evaluated in light of the "incentive-sensitization theory of addiction", which we first proposed in 1993, and new developments in research are incorporated. We argue that traditional negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, and hedonic accounts of addiction are neither necessary nor sufficient to account for compulsive patterns of drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior. Four major tenets of the incentive-sensitization view are discussed. These are: (1) Potentially addictive drugs share the ability to produce long-lasting adaptations in neural systems. (2) The brain systems that are changed include those normally involved in the process of incentive motivation and reward. (3) The critical neuroadaptations for addiction render these brain reward systems hypersensitive ("sensitized") to drugs and drug-associated stimuli. (4) The brain systems that are sensitized do not mediate the pleasurable or euphoric effects of drugs (drug "liking"), but instead they mediate a subcomponent of reward we have termed incentive salience (drug "wanting"). We also discuss the role that mesolimbic dopamine systems play in reward, evidence that neural sensitization happens in humans, and the implications of incentive-sensitization for the development of therapies in the treatment of addiction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / therapy
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Compulsive Behavior
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Narcotics / therapeutic use
  • Neurobiology*
  • Rats
  • Recurrence
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics