Influences of social reward experience on behavioral responses to drugs of abuse: Review of shared and divergent neural plasticity mechanisms for sexual reward and drugs of abuse

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Different factors influence the development of drug addiction in humans, including social reward experiences. In animals, experience with social rewards, such as sexual behavior, pair bonding, social and environmental enrichment, can be protective. However, loss or lack of social rewards can lead to a vulnerability to drug-seeking behavior. The effects of social reward experience on drug-seeking behavior are associated with changes in the neural pathways that control drug-related behavior. This review will provide an introduction and overview of the mesolimbic pathway and the influence of social reward experience on drug-seeking behavior in rodents. Moreover, the research from our laboratory on effects of sexual experience and loss of sex reward on psychostimulant and opiate reward will be reviewed. Finally, we will review current knowledge of the neural mechanisms that underlie these interactions. Investigations of the neural underpinnings by which social and drug rewards interact contribute to improved understanding of the neural basis of vulnerability for drug addiction and reward-related behaviors in general.

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