Drug addiction represents a dramatic dysregulation of motivational circuits that is caused by a combination of exaggerated incentive salience and habit formation, reward deficits and stress surfeits, and compromised executive function in three stages. The rewarding effects of drugs of abuse, development of incentive salience, and development of drug-seeking habits in the binge/intoxication stage involve changes in dopamine and opioid peptides in the basal ganglia. The increases in negative emotional states and dysphoric and stress-like responses in the withdrawal/negative affect stage involve decreases in the function of the dopamine component of the reward system and recruitment of brain stress neurotransmitters, such as corticotropin-releasing factor and dynorphin, in the neurocircuitry of the extended amygdala. The craving and deficits in executive function in the so-called preoccupation/anticipation stage involve the dysregulation of key afferent projections from the prefrontal cortex and insula, including glutamate, to the basal ganglia and extended amygdala. Molecular genetic studies have identified transduction and transcription factors that act in neurocircuitry associated with the development and maintenance of addiction that might mediate initial vulnerability, maintenance, and relapse associated with addiction.
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