Cues conditioned to withdrawal and negative reinforcement: Neglected but key motivational elements driving opioid addiction

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Science Advances  07 Apr 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 15, eabf0364
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf0364


Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a debilitating disorder that affects millions of people. Neutral cues can acquire motivational properties when paired with the positive emotional effects of drug intoxication to stimulate relapse. However, much less research has been devoted to cues that become conditioned to the aversive effects of opioid withdrawal. We argue that environmental stimuli promote motivation for opioids when cues are paired with withdrawal (conditioned withdrawal) and generate opioid consumption to terminate conditioned withdrawal (conditioned negative reinforcement). We review evidence that cues associated with pain drive opioid consumption, as patients with chronic pain may misuse opioids to escape physical and emotional pain. We highlight sex differences in withdrawal-induced stress reactivity and withdrawal cue processing and discuss neurocircuitry that may underlie withdrawal cue processing in dependent individuals. These studies highlight the importance of studying cues associated with withdrawal in dependent individuals and point to areas for exploration in OUD research.

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