The hypocretin/orexin system as a target for excessive motivation in alcohol use disorders

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2018 Jun;235(6):1663-1680. doi: 10.1007/s00213-018-4871-2. Epub 2018 Mar 6.


The hypocretin/orexin (ORX) system has been repeatedly demonstrated to regulate motivation for drugs of abuse, including alcohol. In particular, ORX seems to be critically involved in highly motivated behaviors, as is observed in high-seeking individuals in a population, in the seeking of highly palatable substances, and in models of dependence. It seems logical that this system could be considered as a potential target for treatment for addiction, particularly alcohol addiction, as ORX pharmacological manipulations significantly reduce drinking. However, the ORX system also plays a role in a wide range of other behaviors, emotions, and physiological functions and is disrupted in a number of non-dependence-associated disorders. It is therefore important to consider how the ORX system might be optimally targeted for potential treatment for alcohol use disorders either in combination with or separate from its role in other functions or diseases. This review will focus on the role of ORX in alcohol-associated behaviors and whether and how this system could be targeted to treat alcohol use disorders while avoiding impacts on other ORX-relevant functions. A brief overview of the ORX system will be followed by a discussion of some of the factors that makes it particularly intriguing as a target for alcohol addiction treatment, a consideration of some potential challenges associated with targeting this system and, finally, some future directions to optimize new treatments.

Keywords: Alcoholism; Craving; Dependence; Ethanol; Hypothalamus; Neuropeptide.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / drug therapy
  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / drug therapy
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Humans
  • Motivation / drug effects*
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Orexins / administration & dosage
  • Orexins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Orexins / metabolism*


  • HCRT protein, human
  • Orexins