Learning and memory in the aetiopathogenesis of addiction: future implications for therapy?

Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2009 Nov:259 Suppl 2:S183-7. doi: 10.1007/s00406-009-0057-6.


Addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder. Even after long periods of abstinence from drugs, the risk of relapse, often precipitated by drug-associated cues, remains high. Especially learning processes have been shown to play a major role in the maintenance of addictive behaviour. Humans and animals rapidly learn cues and contexts that predict the availability of addictive drugs. Once learned, these cues and contexts initiate drug seeking, craving and relapse in both animal models and clinical studies. These observations have converged on the hypothesis that addiction represents the pathological usurpation of neural processes that normally serve reward-related learning. In this context, a substantial body of evidence suggests that several types of neuroadaptation occur, including synapse-specific adaptations of the type thought to underlie specific long-term associative memory. Consequently, understanding learning and memory processes in the brain in addiction is an important key for understanding the persistence of addiction, and it is reasonable to hypothesize that the disruption of drug-related memories may help to prevent relapses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Cues
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*


  • Glutamic Acid
  • Dopamine