New findings on biological factors predicting addiction relapse vulnerability

Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2011 Oct;13(5):398-405. doi: 10.1007/s11920-011-0224-0.


Relapse is a highly prevalent phenomenon in addiction. This paper examines the new research on identifying biological factors that contribute to addiction relapse risk. Prospective studies examining relapse risk are reviewed, and clinical, biological, and neural factors that predict relapse risk are identified. Clinical factors, patient-related factors, and subjective and behavioral measures such as depressive symptoms, stress, and drug craving all predict future relapse risk. Among biological measures, endocrine measures such as cortisol and cortisol/corticotropin (ACTH) ratio as a measure of adrenal sensitivity and serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor were also predictive of future relapse risk. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. Caveats pertaining to specific drug abuse type and phase of addiction are discussed. Finally, significant implications of these findings for clinical practice are presented, with a specific focus on determining biological markers of relapse risk that may be used to identify those individuals who are most at risk of relapse in the clinic. Such markers may then be used to assess treatment response and develop specific treatments that will normalize these neural and biological sequelae so as to significantly improve relapse outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone