The dopamine theory of addiction: 40 years of highs and lows

David J. Nutt, Anne Lingford-Hughes, David Erritzoe, Paul Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

347 Citations (Scopus)
3350 Downloads (Pure)


For several decades, addiction has come to be viewed as a disorder of the dopamine neurotransmitter system; however, this view has not led to new treatments. In this Opinion article, we review the origins of the dopamine theory of addiction and discuss the ability of addictive drugs to elicit the release of dopamine in the human striatum. There is robust evidence that stimulants increase striatal dopamine levels and some evidence that alcohol may have such an effect, but little evidence, if any, that cannabis and opiates increase dopamine levels. Moreover, there is good evidence that striatal dopamine receptor availability and dopamine release are diminished in individuals with stimulant or alcohol dependence but not in individuals with opiate, nicotine or cannabis dependence. These observations have implications for understanding reward and treatment responses in various addictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-312
Number of pages8
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2015


  • PET
  • Neuroimaging


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