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Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Jun 12. pii: S0006-3223(19)31435-0. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.05.023. [Epub ahead of print]

Neurobiology of Opioid Addiction: Opponent Process, Hyperkatifeia, and Negative Reinforcement.

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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland; National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Electronic address:


Opioids are powerful drugs that usurp and overpower the reward function of endogenous opioids and engage dramatic tolerance and withdrawal via molecular and neurocircuitry neuroadaptations within the same reward system. However, they also engage the brain systems for stress and pain (somatic and emotional) while producing hyperalgesia and hyperkatifeia, which drive pronounced drug-seeking behavior via processes of negative reinforcement. Hyperkatifeia (derived from the Greek "katifeia" for dejection or negative emotional state) is defined as an increase in intensity of the constellation of negative emotional or motivational signs and symptoms of withdrawal from drugs of abuse. In animal models, repeated extended access to drugs or opioids results in negative emotion-like states, reflected by the elevation of reward thresholds, lower pain thresholds, anxiety-like behavior, and dysphoric-like responses. Such negative emotional states that drive negative reinforcement are hypothesized to derive from the within-system dysregulation of key neurochemical circuits that mediate incentive-salience and/or reward systems (dopamine, opioid peptides) in the ventral striatum and from the between-system recruitment of brain stress systems (corticotropin-releasing factor, dynorphin, norepinephrine, hypocretin, vasopressin, glucocorticoids, and neuroimmune factors) in the extended amygdala. Hyperkatifeia can extend into protracted abstinence and interact with learning processes in the form of conditioned withdrawal to facilitate relapse to compulsive-like drug seeking. Compelling evidence indicates that plasticity in the brain pain emotional systems is triggered by acute excessive drug intake and becomes sensitized during the development of compulsive drug taking with repeated withdrawal. It then persists into protracted abstinence and contributes to the development and persistence of compulsive opioid-seeking behavior.


Addiction; Dysphoria; Hyperkatifeia; Negative reinforcement; Opioids; Stress

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