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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2003 Aug;27(5):457-91.

Effect of environmental stressors on opiate and psychostimulant reinforcement, reinstatement and discrimination in rats: a review.

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  • 1Behavioral Neuroscience Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH/DHHS, 5500 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Studies in humans suggest that exposure to life stressors is correlated with compulsive drug abuse and relapse to drugs during periods of abstinence. The behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms involved in the effect of stress on drug abuse, however, are not known. Here, we review data from studies using preclinical models in rats on the effect of environmental stressors on opiate and psychostimulant reinforcement, as measured by the intravenous drug self-administration and conditioned place preference procedures, on relapse to these drugs, as measured by the reinstatement procedure, and on the subjective effects of these drugs, as measured by the drug discrimination procedure. The results of the studies reviewed here suggest that while stressors are important modulators of the behavioral effects of opiate and psychostimulant drugs, the effect of stress on behavior in these animal models is stressor-specific, and to some degree, procedure- and drug-class-specific. The review of studies on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying stress-drug interactions in these animal models indicate that central noradrenaline and extrahypothalamic corticotropin-releasing factor mediate the effect of one form of stress (intermittent footshock) on reinstatement of opiate and psychostimulant seeking after prolonged drug-free periods. At present, however, little is known about the neuronal events that mediate the effect of environmental stressors on opiate and psychostimulant reinforcement or discrimination. The broader implications of the data reviewed here for future research and for the treatment of opiate and psychostimulant addiction are briefly discussed.

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