Learning and memory in the aetiopathogenesis of addiction: future implications for therapy?



Addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder. Even after long periods of abstinence from drugs, the risk of relapse, often precipitated by drug-associated cues, remains high. Especially learning processes have been shown to play a major role in the maintenance of addictive behaviour. Humans and animals rapidly learn cues and contexts that predict the availability of addictive drugs. Once learned, these cues and contexts initiate drug seeking, craving and relapse in both animal models and clinical studies. These observations have converged on the hypothesis that addiction represents the pathological usurpation of neural processes that normally serve reward-related learning. In this context, a substantial body of evidence suggests that several types of neuroadaptation occur, including synapse-specific adaptations of the type thought to underlie specific long-term associative memory. Consequently, understanding learning and memory processes in the brain in addiction is an important key for understanding the persistence of addiction, and it is reasonable to hypothesize that the disruption of drug-related memories may help to prevent relapses.


Addiction Drugs Alcohol Learning Memory Reconsolidation Extinction 



The authors’ research and the preparation of the manuscript were supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; SFB 636, D6).

Conflict of interest statement

The authors state that there are no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Addictive Behavior and Addiction Medicine, Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH)University of HeidelbergMannheimGermany

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