Vocalizations during withdrawal from opiates and cocaine: possible expressions of affective distress

Eur J Pharmacol. 2003 Apr 25;467(1-3):1-13. doi: 10.1016/s0014-2999(03)01558-9.


Intense anxiety has been postulated to trigger relapse to abuse of opiates and psychomotor stimulants. Preclinical research methodologies need to be developed to adequately characterize the affective or emotional component of withdrawal. Classically, withdrawal from psychomotor stimulants and opiates focuses on somatic and autonomic indices, foremost based on observational assessments and, additionally, on measures of disrupted conditioned behavior. These measures depict the intensity and time course of withdrawal from specific doses of opiates and psychomotor stimulants, but require large numbers of subjects due to single use of each individual. Behavioral disruptions have been attributed to anhedonia, a core symptom of drug withdrawal, as well as major depressive and psychotic disorders. In spite of some pharmacological validation, inferences about anxiety-like disturbances, based on observed somatic and autonomic signs or on changes in conditioned responses, have to remain tentative. High-pitched vocalizations may communicate affective expressions and, in rodents, different kinds of ultrasonic vocalizations communicate maternal separation distress in infants, accompany the intensely arousing phases of agonistic confrontations, signal submission and distress in defensive responses to threats and painful events, and are part of the excitatory and inhibitory phases of sexual behavior. While acute treatment with opiates, psychomotor stimulants, alcohol and benzodiazepines suppresses ultrasonic vocalizations in the 22-25-kHz range, rats emit high rates of ultrasonic vocalizations upon withdrawal from prolonged exposure to these drugs, particularly if they have been startled. Peak rates of ultrasonic distress calls occur ca. 1-3 days after cessation of cocaine or opiate treatment and decline within 5-7 days. Ultrasonic vocalizations during withdrawal from cocaine, alcohol or benzodiazepines can be attenuated by renewed access to the drug. It will be informative to learn how the neural circuit mediating vocalizations interacts with the ones subserving self-administration of alcohol, opiates and psychomotor stimulants.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced*
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Narcotics / adverse effects*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome*
  • Ultrasonics
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects*


  • Narcotics
  • Cocaine