The influence of stress on the transition from drug use to addiction

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Stress - that is, any type of stimulus that challenges the organism's normal internal balance - induces a physiologic response involving a variety of hormones and other signaling molecules that act on, among other organs, the brain. This stress response also can influence the progression of alcohol and other drug (AOD) addiction through various stages. For example, AODs can directly activate the stress response. In turn, certain stress hormones (i.e., glucocorticoids and corticotrophin-releasing factor) also act on the brain system that mediates the rewarding experiences associated with AOD use (i.e., the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system). Moreover, elevated glucocorticoid levels and stress increase AOD self-administration in certain animal models. During a later stage of the addiction process, in contrast, excessive and/or prolonged stress may impair the reward system, inducing heavier AOD use to maintain the rewarding experience. During the final stage of addiction, when the addicted person experiences withdrawal symptoms if no drug is consumed, chronic AOD use results in gross impairment of the normal stress response and other signaling mechanisms in the brain, resulting in a state of anxiety and internal stress. At this stage, people continue to use AODs mainly to relieve this negative-affect state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-136
Number of pages18
JournalAlcohol Research and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008


  • Addiction
  • Alcohol and other drug (AOD) dependence
  • Animal studies
  • Brain
  • Brain reward pathway
  • Dopamine
  • Glucocorticoid
  • Human studies
  • Stress
  • Stress as an AOD cause (AODC)
  • Stress response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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