Opinion

The dopamine theory of addiction: 40 years of highs and lows

  • Nature Reviews Neuroscience volume 16, pages 305312 (2015)
  • doi:10.1038/nrn3939
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Published:

Abstract

For several decades, addiction has come to be viewed as a disorder of the dopamine neurotransmitter system; however, this view has not led to new treatments. In this Opinion article, we review the origins of the dopamine theory of addiction and discuss the ability of addictive drugs to elicit the release of dopamine in the human striatum. There is robust evidence that stimulants increase striatal dopamine levels and some evidence that alcohol may have such an effect, but little evidence, if any, that cannabis and opiates increase dopamine levels. Moreover, there is good evidence that striatal dopamine receptor availability and dopamine release are diminished in individuals with stimulant or alcohol dependence but not in individuals with opiate, nicotine or cannabis dependence. These observations have implications for understanding reward and treatment responses in various addictions.

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Affiliations

  1. Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, Division of Brain Sciences, Burlington Danes Building, Imperial College London, London W12 0NN, UK.

    • David J. Nutt
    • , Anne Lingford-Hughes
    • , David Erritzoe
    •  & Paul R. A. Stokes
  2. Centre for Affective Disorders, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King's College London, London SE5 8AF, UK.

    • Paul R. A. Stokes

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Competing interests

D.J.N. has received speaker's fees, or travel or grant support from companies with an interest in the treatment of addiction: RB pharmaceuticals, Lundbeck, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, D&A Pharma and Nalpharm. A.L.-H. has received speaker's fees and grant support from Lundbeck and GlaxoSmithKline. D.E. has received grant support from GlaxoSmithKline. P.R.A.S. declares no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David J. Nutt.