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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 Dec;79(4):671-89.

Allostasis and dysregulation of corticotropin-releasing factor and neuropeptide Y systems: implications for the development of alcoholism.

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  • 1Department of Neuropharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Alcoholism is a chronic relapsing disorder, accompanied by alterations in psychological and physiological functioning, which reaches an addictive state where an individual demonstrates uncontrollable compulsive alcohol drinking and impairment in social and occupational functioning. Withdrawal is one of the defining characteristics of dependence, characterized by impaired physiological function and enhanced negative affect, and is thought to be a major contributing factor to relapse. The negative emotional aspects of withdrawal appear to be more involved in continued alcohol craving because physical withdrawal symptoms are not highly correlated with relapse in alcoholics. Allostasis describes maintaining stability outside the homeostatic range by varying the internal milieu to match environmental demands. This concept has been applied to neurobiological models of drug addiction and is thought to contribute to the vulnerability of drug addicts to relapse, as addicts continue to use drugs in order to maintain their psychological state within a homeostatic range. With regard to alcohol, two neuropeptides appear to be involved in the regulation of alcohol-related stress, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which is associated with an increased stress response and negative affect, and neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neuropeptide with anxiolytic properties. The hypothesis to be developed in the present review is that a dysregulation of the CRF and NPY systems significantly contributes to the motivational basis of continued alcohol-seeking behavior during alcohol dependence. It appears that increases in CRF contribute to the negative affective state that is strongly associated with alcohol withdrawal, and NPY provides a motivational basis to consume alcohol because the anxiolytic effects of alcohol, which are strongly associated with relapse, appear to be regulated in part by this neuropeptide.

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