A review of human drug self-administration procedures

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Abstract

Drug self-administration procedures in laboratory settings allow us to closely model drug-taking behavior in real-world settings. This review provides an overview of many of the common self-administration methods used in human laboratory research. Typically, self-administration studies provide a quantifiable measure of the reinforcing effect of a drug, which is believed to be predictive of its potential for abuse. Several adaptations of the self-administration paradigm exist, the simplest of which allows participants free access to the drug under investigation. Free-access procedures allow investigators to observe patterns of drug self-administration and drug effects in a controlled setting. Allowing participants to choose between two simultaneously available reinforcers (choice procedures) is another well-established method of assessing the reinforcing effects of a drug. Offering a choice between two reinforcers (e.g. two different doses of the same drug, two different drugs, or drug and nondrug reinforcers) provides researchers with a point of comparison (e.g. between a drug of known abuse potential and a novel drug). When combined with other endpoints, such as subjective effects ratings, physiological responses, and cognitive performance, human self-administration paradigms have contributed significantly to our understanding of the factors that contribute to, maintain, and alter drug-taking behavior including: craving, positive subjective effects, toxicity, drug interactions and abstinence. This area of research has also begun to incorporate other techniques such as imaging and genetics to further understand the multifaceted nature of substance abuse. The present paper summarizes the different self-administration techniques that are commonly used today and the application of other procedures that may complement interpretation of the drug self-administration findings.

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