Reinforcement processes in opiate addiction: a homeostatic model

Neurochem Res. 1996 Nov;21(11):1437-54. doi: 10.1007/BF02532385.


The development of tolerance and dependence has traditionally been considered an integral aspect of the drug addiction process, and opiate dependence has been studied extensively as a model system in this regard. However, recent emphasis on the positive reinforcing properties of drugs has led to the suggestion that tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal may be of secondary or even negligible importance in motivating compulsive drug use. The current article argues for an integrated view of addiction in the form of a homeostatic neuroadaptation model which emphasizes the motivational significance of both the positive affective state produced by opiates and the negative affective state characteristic of drug withdrawal. The model is supported by evidence at both the behavioral and neural systems levels of analysis. Understanding the important distinction between somatic and affective components of opiate withdrawal is key to recognizing the factors which contribute to the motivational significance of opiate dependence and withdrawal. In addition, the critical role of conditioning processes in the maintenance of compulsive drug use and relapse after periods of abstention is discussed. Finally, it is argued that both the positive reinforcement produced by acute administration of a drug and the negative affective state produced by withdrawal are common to multiple classes of abused drugs, suggesting that an understanding of homeostatic neuroadaptation within motivational systems provides a key to the etiology, treatment and prevention of drug addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation
  • Narcotics* / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Narcotics