The role of dopamine in drug abuse viewed from the perspective of its role in motivation

Drug Alcohol Depend. 1995 May;38(2):95-137. doi: 10.1016/0376-8716(95)01118-i.


Drugs of abuse share with conventional reinforcers the activation of specific neural pathways in the CNS that are the substrate of their motivational properties. Dopamine is recognized as the transmitter of one such neural pathway, being involved in at least three major aspects of motivation: modulation of motivational state, acquisition (incentive learning) and expression of incentive properties by motivational stimuli. Drugs of abuse of different pharmacological classes stimulate in the low dose range dopamine transmission particularly in the ventral striatum. Apart from psychostimulants, the evidence that stimulation of dopamine transmission by drugs of abuse provides the primary motivational stimulus for drug self-administration is either unconvincing or negative. However, stimulation of dopamine transmission is essential for the activational properties of drugs of abuse and might be instrumental for the acquisition of responding to drug-related incentive stimuli (incentive learning). Dopamine is involved in the induction and in the expression of behavioural sensitization by repeated exposure to various drugs of abuse. Sensitization to the dopamine-stimulant properties of specific drug classes leading to facilitation of incentive learning of drug-related stimuli might account for the strong control over behaviour exerted by these stimuli in the addiction state. Withdrawal from drugs of abuse results in a reduction in basal dopamine transmission in vivo and in reduced responding for conventional reinforcers. Although these changes are likely to be the expression of a state of dependence of the dopamine system their contribution to the motivational state of drug addiction is unclear.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Association Learning / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Motivation*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Dopamine