The use and abuse of psychoactive substances, including cocaine, heroin, alcohol, cannabis and tobacco (nicotine) have been an enduring feature of human societies. In the UK alone, ‘the total cost to society of illegal drugs is around £20 billion per year, but only £600 million is spent on treatment and prevention’.
There are now many studies of addiction in human populations, including sophisticated imaging studies that have provided rich information about the structure, metabolic activity and neurochemical status of the brains of individuals with a drug addiction. However, such investigations do not easily allow us to understand the progression from initial, recreational use of addictive drugs through abuse to the addicted state when behaviour directed at obtaining and using drugs becomes compulsive.
This lecture will review some of Professor Everitt and his group’s research on the behavioural neuroscience of addiction in experimental animals that seeks to understand the neural and psychological mechanisms of addictive behaviour, including the nature of vulnerability as well as the possibility of developing new treatments.