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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2003 Jul 20;71(1):25-35.

Neuroendocrine responses to experimentally-induced emotions among abstinent opioid-dependent subjects.

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Centro Studi Farmacotossicodipendenze, Ser.T., Az. U.S.L., Via Spalato 2, 43100 Parma, Italy.


The present study investigated neuroendocrine and cardiovascular changes during experimentally-induced affective states in abstinent heroin-dependent subjects and healthy controls. The procedure for eliciting emotions in all subjects used pleasant and unpleasant stimuli that did not differ in subjective arousal properties. We investigated whether the valence of the stimuli differentially affected neuroendocrine responses by comparing neutral, pleasant and unpleasant pictures on heart rate (HR), systolic (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP), methyl-OH-phenyl-glycol (MHPG), norepinephrine (NE), epinephrine (EPI), adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol (CORT) plasma levels. Twelve abstinent heroin-dependent subjects, in comparison with 12 control subjects, were submitted to three experimental sessions, each on one of three experimental days a week apart, in counterbalanced order: day 1=unpleasant pictures, day 2=pleasant pictures, day 3=neutral pictures. In the rating of subjective arousal pleasant and unpleasant stimuli received the same high score in comparison with neutral stimuli; a different cardiovascular and neuroendocrine pattern was obtained in healthy subjects: unpleasant stimuli elicited increases in HR, SBP, MHPG, NE, ACTH, CORT, whereas neutral and pleasant stimuli did not induce any significant response in hormonal levels. In contrast, in heroin addicts, despite increased perceptions of unpleasantness, HR, SBP, MHPG and NE levels did not increase after disliked stimuli; these subjects also reported increased arousal during exposure to neutral stimuli. In comparison with controls, addicted individuals showed higher CORT and ACTH basal levels, and a consequent lack of response to unpleasant stimuli. The results indicate that neuroendocrine and cardiovascular systems respond selectively to affective, motivationally relevant stimuli, and that substance use disorders may be associated with dysregulation of emotion-processing mechanisms.

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