Objectives: This commentary assesses the degree to which the reinstatement model is homologous to the human experience of relapse.
Results: A review of the literature suggests that the relationship is less clear than is often assumed, largely due to a lack of prospective data on the precipitants and process of relapse (especially relapse to heroin or cocaine abuse). However, reinstatement does not need to resemble relapse to have immediate clinical value; predictive validity as a medication screen would be sufficient. Whether the model has predictive validity is unknown, because, to date, very few clinical trials have tested medications that are effective in the reinstatement model, and even fewer have used designs comparable to those of reinstatement experiments. A clinical trial comparable to a reinstatement experiment would enroll participants who are already abstinent, and its main outcome measure would be propensity to undergo a specific type of relapse (e.g., relapse induced by stress or cues).
Conclusions: Until clinical and preclinical work are more comparable, criticisms of the reinstatement model's presumed shortcomings are premature.