Introduction: Illicit substance-use is a substantial public health concern, contributing over $150 billion in costs annually to Americans. A complex disease, a substance-use disorder affects neural circuits involved in reinforcement, motivation, learning and memory, and inhibitory control.
Areas covered: The modulatory influence of dopamine in mesocorticolimbic circuits contributes to encoding the primary reinforcing effects of substances and numerous studies suggest that aberrant signaling within these circuits contributes to the development of a substance-use disorder in some individuals. Decades of research focused on the clinical development of medications that directly target dopamine receptors has led to recent studies of agonist-like dopaminergic treatments for stimulant-use disorders and, more recently, cannabis-use disorder. Human studies evaluating the efficacy of dopaminergic agonist-like medications to reduce reinforcing effects and substance-use provide some insight into the design of future pharmacotherapy trials. A search of PubMed using specific brain regions, medications, and/or the terms 'dopamine', 'cognition', 'reinforcement', 'cocaine', 'methamphetamine', 'amphetamine', 'cannabis', 'treatment/pharmacotherapy', 'addiction/abuse/dependence' identified articles relevant to this review.
Expert opinion: Conceptualization of substance-use disorders and their treatment continues to evolve. Current efforts increasingly focus on a strategy fostering combination pharmacotherapies that target multiple neurotransmitter systems.