Role of cues and contexts on drug-seeking behaviour

Br J Pharmacol. 2014 Oct;171(20):4636-72. doi: 10.1111/bph.12735. Epub 2014 Jul 2.


Environmental stimuli are powerful mediators of craving and relapse in substance-abuse disorders. This review examined how animal models have been used to investigate the cognitive mechanisms through which cues are able to affect drug-seeking behaviour. We address how animal models can describe the way drug-associated cues come to facilitate the development and persistence of drug taking, as well as how these cues are critical to the tendency to relapse that characterizes substance-abuse disorders. Drug-associated cues acquire properties of conditioned reinforcement, incentive motivation and discriminative control, which allow them to influence drug-seeking behaviour. Using these models, researchers have been able to investigate the pharmacology subserving the behavioural impact of environmental stimuli, some of which we highlight. Subsequently, we examine whether the impact of drug-associated stimuli can be attenuated via a process of extinction, and how this question is addressed in the laboratory. We discuss how preclinical research has been translated into behavioural therapies targeting substance abuse, as well as highlight potential developments to therapies that might produce more enduring changes in behaviour.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cues*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior* / drug effects
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior* / physiology
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Receptor, Metabotropic Glutamate 5 / physiology
  • Recurrence


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Receptor, Metabotropic Glutamate 5