Effect of early life social adversity on drug abuse vulnerability: Focus on corticotropin-releasing factor and oxytocin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Early life adversity can set the trajectory for later psychiatric disorders, including substance use disorders. There are a host of neurobiological factors that may play a role in the negative trajectory. The current review examines preclinical evidence suggesting that early life adversity specifically involving social factors (maternal separation, adolescent social isolation and adolescent social defeat) may influence drug abuse vulnerability by strengthening corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) systems and weakening oxytocin (OT) systems. In adulthood, pharmacological and genetic evidence indicates that both CRF and OT systems are directly involved in drug reward processes. With early life adversity, numerous studies show an increase in drug abuse vulnerability measured in adulthood, along a concomitant strengthening of CRF systems and a weakening of OT systems. Mechanistic studies, while relatively few in number, are generally consistent with the theme that strengthened CRF systems and weakened OT systems mediate, at least in part, the link between early life adversity and drug abuse vulnerability. Establishing a direct role of CRF and OT in mediating the relation between early life social stressors and drug abuse vulnerability will inform clinical researchers and practitioners toward the development of intervention strategies to reduce risk among those suffering from early life adversities. This article is part of the special issue on ‘Vulnerabilities to Substance Abuse’.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108567
StatePublished - Jun 15 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Conditioned place preference
  • Corticotropin-releasing factor
  • Maternal separation
  • Oxytocin
  • Self-administration
  • Social defeat
  • Social isolation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Effect of early life social adversity on drug abuse vulnerability: Focus on corticotropin-releasing factor and oxytocin'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this