Glutamatergic mechanisms in addiction

Mol Psychiatry. 2003 Apr;8(4):373-82. doi: 10.1038/


Traditionally, addiction research in neuroscience has focused on mechanisms involving dopamine and endogenous opioids. More recently, it has been realized that glutamate also plays a central role in processes underlying the development and maintenance of addiction. These processes include reinforcement, sensitization, habit learning and reinforcement learning, context conditioning, craving and relapse. In the past few years, some major advances have been made in the understanding of how glutamate acts and interacts with other transmitters (in particular, dopamine) in the context of processes underlying addiction. It appears that while many actions of glutamate derive their importance from a stimulatory interaction with the dopaminergic system, there are some glutamatergic mechanisms that contribute to addiction independent of dopaminergic systems. Among those, context-specific aspects of behavioral determinants (ie control over behavior by conditioned stimuli) appear to depend heavily on glutamatergic transmission. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms might open new avenues to the treatment of addiction, in particular regarding relapse prevention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology*
  • Habits
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Glutamic Acid