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Addiction. 2000 Aug;95 Suppl 2:S119-28.

The tonic/phasic model of dopamine system regulation and its implications for understanding alcohol and psychostimulant craving.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


All drugs of abuse have been shown to act either directly or indirectly by increasing dopamine neurotransmission within the limbic system. Thus, alcohol has been shown to increase dopamine transmission primarily by activating dopamine cell spike activity, whereas psychostimulants increase dopamine transmission by inhibiting the removal of dopamine from the synaptic space after its release. The spike-dependent release of dopamine that is modulated by drugs of abuse to lead to their rewarding actions has been termed the phasic dopamine response. In contrast, with repeated drug administration, dopamine will also accumulate in the extracellular space of the nucleus accumbens in concentrations too low to stimulate postsynaptic receptors, but of sufficient magnitude to activate dopamine release-inhibiting autoreceptors. In addition, the level of extracellular dopamine is proposed to be under the regulatory influence of cortico-accumbens afferents. This steady-state level of extrasynaptic dopamine has been termed the tonic dopamine response. In this paper it is proposed that several of the aspects of drug addiction, withdrawal and craving associated with the continued use of these drugs can be explained on the basis of their effects on tonic versus phasic dopamine system function. Thus, the increase in tonic dopamine levels that occurs with repeated drug administration would serve to oppose phasic dopamine release via stimulation of dopamine terminal autoreceptors, causing the subject to increase drug administration to restore the phasic response. Moreover, after withdrawal from the drugs, exposure to priming doses of drug or to drug-related stimuli are proposed to increase tonic dopamine levels, again triggering drug-seeking behavior in order to restore balance between the tonic and phasic dopamine systems. Therefore, one consequence of continued drug use is that these parameters of dopamine system function that normally serve to keep the system stable will enter into a new steady-state homeostasis, from which the system is particularly susceptible to destabilizing influences that may precipitate relapse.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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