Endogenous opioids and excessive alcohol consumption

J Psychiatry Neurosci. 1993 Jul;18(4):148-56.


Alcohol is one of the most popular drugs of abuse in our society, and alcoholism is an important cause of absenteeism at work and a major health and social problem. Ethanol induces a number of effects, such as disinhibition, a feeling of general well-being, tolerance and physical dependence. Since there are no specific receptors with which ethanol interacts, it has been proposed that ethanol exerts its effects by altering the activity of a number of neuronal and neuroendocrine systems. Studies have indicated that alcohol influences the activity of the dopaminergic, serotonergic and opioidergic systems. The implication of the endogenous opioid system in mediating some of the effects of ethanol is indicated by the observations that some of the behavioral and pharmacological effects of ethanol are similar to those of the opiates. Indeed, injections of small amounts of morphine increased ethanol consumption, while the administration of naltrexone decreased ethanol consumption among rats and other experimental animals, in a number of experimental paradigms, suggesting that endogenous opioids may play an important role in controlling voluntary ethanol consumption. This paper reviews studies of the effects of ethanol on the activity of the endogenous opioid system and on the importance of endogenous opioids in controlling alcohol consumption.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Endorphins / metabolism*
  • Endorphins / pharmacology
  • Enkephalins / metabolism
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Naltrexone / metabolism
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use
  • Pituitary Gland / drug effects
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • RNA
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Endorphins
  • Enkephalins
  • Ethanol
  • Naltrexone
  • RNA