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Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2005 Aug;13(3):163-84.

Regulation of drug taking by sensitization and habituation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.


The authors argue that drug taking is an operant behavior that is reinforced by the drug itself. The effectiveness of a drug as a reinforcer is modulated by sensitization and habituation to the drug as it is consumed. According to this model, drug taking stops when habituation reduces the ability of the drug to reinforce its own consumption. Drug taking resumes when spontaneous recovery restores the effectiveness of the drug as a reinforcer. This parsimonious model provides a framework for understanding many findings in the drug literature, including acute and chronic tolerance, the effect of deprivation on consumption, the contextual specificity of tolerance, polydrug abuse, cross-sensitization between stress and drugs, behavioral sensitization, priming, and reinstatement. Although this model cannot explain all aspects of drug taking (e.g., the effect of cognitive manipulations), it has many implications for understanding and controlling human drug consumption and addiction.

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