Drugs of abuse and stress trigger a common synaptic adaptation in dopamine neurons (2003)

Comments: Stress, anxiety, fear all cause a release of the same mixture of neurotransmitters (norepinephrine) and hormones (cortisol), which activate the reward circuit. This study demonstrates that stress can sensitize reward structures in the same way as do addictive drugs. Shocking, anxiety producing porn may be appealing because as it jacks up an already desensitized brain. We suspect escalation to shocking, anxiety producing genres takes advantage of this mechanism.

Neuron. 2003 Feb 20;37(4):577-82.


Nancy Pritzker Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA.

Erratum in

  • Neuron. 2003 Apr 24;38(2):359.


Drug seeking and drug self-administration in both animals and humans can be triggered by drugs of abuse themselves or by stressful events. Here, we demonstrate that in vivo administration of drugs of abuse with different molecular mechanisms of action as well as acute stress both increase strength at excitatory synapses on midbrain dopamine neurons. Psychoactive drugs with minimal abuse potential do not cause this change. The synaptic effects of stress, but not of cocaine, are blocked by the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU486. These results suggest that plasticity at excitatory synapses on dopamine neurons may be a key neural adaptation contributing to addiction and its interactions with stress and thus may be an attractive therapeutic target for reducing the risk of addiction.