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Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2011 Dec;4(4):261-9.

A review of preclinical research demonstrating that drug and non-drug reinforcers differentially affect behavior.

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  • 1Psychology Department, American University, Washington, DC 20016, USA.


This review describes and summarizes current preclinical research revealing important differences between drug and non-drug reinforcers in terms of their effects on behavior. Despite research showing that drugs are not especially strong reinforcers in animals, a number of other behavioral differences potentially relevant to addiction have been reported in studies that have compared drug and non-drug reinforcers. Several of these effects appear only after long-term access to drugs. These include an escalation of drug intake, an increased persistence in responding for the drug, and a decreased sensitivity to the effects of punishers or other suppressors of drug seeking. Further differences between drug and non-drug reinforcers include the effects that reinforcer-paired stimuli have on behavior. Drug cues, as compared to food cues, have been shown to exert greater control over reinforcer-seeking behavior after periods of abstinence. Similarly, behavior previously reinforced by drugs, but not food, has been shown to be susceptible to stress-induced reinstatement after extinction. The behavioral differences between drug and non-drug reinforcers reviewed here may identify special features of drugs that lead to addiction.

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