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Reinforcement Principles for Addiction Medicine; From Recreational Drug Use to Psychiatric Disorder


Reinforcement Principles for Addiction Medicine; From Recreational Drug Use to Psychiatric Disorder

Scott Edwards. Prog Brain Res.


The transition from recreational drug use to addiction can be conceptualized as a pathological timeline whereby the psychological mechanisms responsible for disordered drug use evolve from positive reinforcement to favor elements of negative reinforcement. Abused substances (ranging from alcohol to psychostimulants) are initially ingested at regular occasions according to their positive reinforcing properties. Importantly, repeated exposure to rewarding substances sets off a chain of secondary reinforcing events, whereby cues and contexts associated with drug use may themselves become reinforcing and thereby contribute to the continued use and possible abuse of the substance(s) of choice. Indeed, the powerful reinforcing efficacy of certain drugs may eclipse that of competing social rewards (such as career and family) and lead to an aberrant narrowing of behavioral repertoire. In certain vulnerable individuals, escalation of drug use over time is thought to drive specific molecular neuroadaptations that foster the development of addiction. Research has identified neurobiological elements of altered reinforcement following excessive drug use that comprise within-circuit and between-circuit neuroadaptations, both of which contribute to addiction. Central to this process is the eventual potentiation of negative reinforcement mechanisms that may represent the final definitive criterion locking vulnerable individuals into a persistent state of addiction. Targeting the neural substrates of reinforcement likely represents our best chances for therapeutic intervention for this devastating disease.

Keywords: Addiction; Alcoholism; Amygdala; Dopamine; Nucleus accumbens; Reinforcement; Reward; Self-administration; Substance use disorder.

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