Author(s): Lovallo WR
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Abstract Addiction to alcohol or nicotine involves altered functioning of the brain's motivational systems. Altered functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis may hold clues to the nature of the motivational changes accompanying addiction and vulnerability to addiction. Alcohol and nicotine show at least three forms of interaction with HPA functioning. Acute intake of both substances causes stress-like cortisol responses. Their persistent use may dysregulate the HPA. Finally, the risk for dependence and for relapse after quitting may be associated with deficient cortisol reactivity to a variety of stressors. The HPA is regulated at the hypothalamus by diurnal and metabolic signals, but during acute emotional states, its regulation is superseded by signals from the limbic system and prefrontal cortex. This top-down organization makes the HPA responsive to inputs that reflect motivational processes. The HPA is accordingly a useful system for studying psychophysiological reactivity in persons who may vary in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tendencies associated with addiction and risk for addiction. Chronic, heavy intake of alcohol and nicotine may cause modifications in these frontal-limbic interactions and may account for HPA response differences in seen in alcoholics and smokers. In addition, preexisting alterations in frontal-limbic interactions with the HPA may reflect addiction-proneness, as shown in studies of offspring of alcohol- and drug-abusing parents. Continuing research on the relationship between HPA function, stress responsivity, and the addictions may yield insights into how the brain's motivational systems support addictions and risk for addictions.
This article was published in Int J Psychophysiol
and referenced in Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy