Animal models of drug relapse and craving: From drug priming-induced reinstatement to incubation of craving after voluntary abstinence

Prog Brain Res. 2016:224:25-52. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2015.08.004. Epub 2015 Nov 4.


High rates of relapse to drug use during abstinence is a defining feature of drug addiction. In abstinent drug users, drug relapse is often precipitated by acute exposure to the self-administered drug, drug-associated cues, stress, as well as by short-term and protracted withdrawal symptoms. In this review, we discuss different animal models that have been used to study behavioral and neuropharmacological mechanisms of these relapse-related phenomena. In the first part, we discuss relapse models in which abstinence is achieved through extinction training, including the established reinstatement model, as well as the reacquisition and resurgence models. In the second part, we discuss recent animal models in which drug relapse is assessed after either forced abstinence (e.g., the incubation of drug craving model) or voluntary (self-imposed) abstinence achieved either by introducing adverse consequences to ongoing drug self-administration (e.g., punishment) or by an alternative nondrug reward using a discrete choice (drug vs. palatable food) procedure. We conclude by briefly discussing the potential implications of the recent developments of animal models of drug relapse after voluntary abstinence to the development of medications for relapse prevention.

Keywords: Choice; Conflict; Context; Cue; Drug self-administration; Extinction; Forced abstinence; Punishment; Reacquisition; Reinstatement; Relapse; Resurgence; Review; Voluntary abstinence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Recurrence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*