Extinguishing conditioned responses during opiate dependence treatment turning laboratory findings into clinical procedures

J Subst Abuse Treat. 1986;3(1):33-40. doi: 10.1016/0740-5472(86)90006-1.


Former opiate addicts (even those who have remained drug-free for several months) often report symptoms of opiate withdrawal (eg. nausea, gooseflesh, etc.) and/or intense drug craving when exposed to stimuli previously associated with the act of drug injection. This phenomenon of learned or "conditioned" withdrawal/craving is widely reported and is potentially important in explaining relapse to drug use. However, no effective, clinically applicable intervention had been available to "extinguish" these conditioned phenomena. An ongoing project to develop such an intervention has revealed: Conditioned withdrawal and craving are pervasive among both methadone maintained patients (even though actual physical withdrawal is blocked) and drug-free patients even after 30 days of inpatient Therapeutic Community rehabilitation. Conditioned withdrawal and craving can be effectively extinguished in an intensive, three-week, inpatient procedure. Emotional states such as anger, depression and anxiety can elicit and exacerbate conditioned withdrawal and craving. They may also act as an integral part of a conditioned stimulus complex. The authors discuss the problems associated with turning a laboratory-based procedure into a clinical intervention. Encouraging preliminary results from an integrated treatment "package" are presented.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Conditioning, Psychological*
  • Desensitization, Psychologic
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Methadone / therapeutic use*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / rehabilitation*
  • Therapeutic Community


  • Methadone