Drugs and addiction: an introduction to epigenetics

Addiction. 2011 Mar;106(3):480-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03321.x.


Addiction is a debilitating psychiatric disorder, with a complex aetiology involving the interaction of inherited predispositions and environmental factors. Emerging evidence suggests that epigenetic alterations to the genome, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, are important mechanisms underlying addiction and the neurobiological response to addictive substances. In this review, we introduce the reader to epigenetic mechanisms and describe a potential role for dynamic epigenetic changes in mediating addictive behaviours via long-lasting changes in gene expression. We summarize recent findings from both molecular and behavioural experiments elucidating the role of epigenetic changes in mediating the addictive potential of various drugs of abuse, including cocaine, amphetamine and alcohol. The implications of these findings for molecular studies of addiction and the future development of novel therapeutic interventions are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior / drug effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Epigenomics / trends*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Histones / genetics
  • Humans
  • Memory, Long-Term / drug effects
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Neuronal Plasticity / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Recurrence
  • Social Environment*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Histones