Can antipsychotic treatment contribute to drug addiction in schizophrenia?

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Abstract

Individuals with schizophrenia are at very high risk for drug abuse and addiction. Patients with a coexisting drug problem fare worse than patients who do not use drugs, and are also more difficult to treat. Current hypotheses cannot adequately account for why patients with schizophrenia so often have a co-morbid drug problem. I present here a complementary hypothesis based on evidence showing that chronic exposure to antipsychotic medications can induce supersensitivity within the brain's dopamine systems, and that this in turn can enhance the rewarding and incentive motivational effects of drugs and reward cues. At the neurobiological level, these effects of antipsychotics are potentially linked to antipsychotic-induced increases in the striatal levels of dopamine D2 receptors and D2 receptors in a high-affinity state for dopamine, particularly at postsynaptic sites. Antipsychotic-induced dopamine supersensitivity and enhanced reward function are not inevitable consequences of prolonged antipsychotic treatment. At least two parameters appear to promote these effects; the use of antipsychotics of the typical class, and continuous rather than intermittent antipsychotic exposure, such that silencing of dopaminergic neurotransmission via D2/3 receptors is unremitting. Thus, by inducing forms of neural plasticity that facilitate the ability of drugs and reward cues to gain control over behaviour, some currently used treatment strategies with typical antipsychotics might contribute to compulsive drug seeking and drug taking behaviours in vulnerable schizophrenia patients.

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