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Br Med Bull. 2010;96:93-110. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldq032. Epub 2010 Nov 2.

Neuropharmacology of addiction and how it informs treatment.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Medicine, Imperial College, Burlington Danes Building, Hammersmith Hospital Site, 160 Du Cane Road, London, UK.


Our knowledge about the neuropharmacology of addiction is increasing and is leading to more informed development of pharmacotherapy. Although the dopaminergic mesolimbic system plays a central role in 'liking', reward and motivation, medications directly targeting it have not proved a very fruitful approach to treating addictions. A review of the literature was performed to find articles relating current and developing pharmacological treatments in the clinic and their underlying neuropharmacology. We focussed on the most common addictions for which pharmacology plays an important role. By characterizing what neurotransmitters modulate this dopaminergic pathway, new medications are now in the clinic and being successfully applied to treat a variety of addictions. In addition to modulating this reward pathway, alternative approaches in the future will target learning and memory, improving impulse control and decision-making.

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