Pharmacological determinants of the reinforcing effects of psychostimulants: Relation to agonist substitution treatment

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Illicit use of psychostimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, continues to pose a significant public health concern. On the basis of the relative success at treating opiate and tobacco users with agonist substitution treatments, this strategy has been pursued in the search for a pharmacotherapy for psychostimulant addiction. The reinforcing effects of drugs are central to their abuse liability; therefore, gaining a better understanding of the factors that determine the reinforcing effects of psychostimulants should inform the development of an effective treatment. Although the reinforcing effects of drugs are known to be multiply determined, the author's dissertation research focused on pharmacological factors. This review presents results from that research as well as findings reported in the extant literature, suggesting that the reinforcing effects of psychostimulant drugs are determined both by their pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic profiles. There is evidence to support the conclusion that affinity for dopamine transporters appears to be of critical importance, whereas serotonin transporters seem to serve a modulatory function. A more rapid rate of onset may enhance a drug's reinforcing effects, but a drug with a slow onset can still maintain self-administration. A drug's duration of action may only influence the rate but not the strength of responding that is maintained. Slow-onset, long-acting monoamine transporter ligands can be expected to have reinforcing effects and therefore abuse liability, which has implications for the use of these drugs as pharmacotherapies. Nonetheless, on the basis of promising preclinical and clinical findings, this appears to represent a viable treatment strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-33
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006


  • Dopamine
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Reinforcing effects
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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