Do initial responses to drugs predict future use or abuse?

Harriet de Wit, Tamara J. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Individuals vary in their initial reactions to drugs of abuse in ways that may contribute to the likelihood of subsequent drug use. In humans, most drugs of abuse produce positive subjective states such as euphoria and feelings of well-being, which may facilitate repeated use. In nonhumans, many drugs initially increase locomotor activity and produce discriminative stimulus effects, both of which have been considered to be models of human stimulant and subjective states. Both humans and nonhumans vary in their sensitivity to early acute drug effects in ways that may predict future use or self-administration, and some of these variations appear to be genetic in origin. However, it is not known exactly how the initial responses to drugs in either humans or nonhumans relate to subsequent use or abuse. In humans, positive effects of drugs facilitate continued use of a drug while negative effects discourage use, and in nonhumans, greater genetic risk for drug intake is predicted by reduced sensitivity to drug aversive effects; but whether these initial responses affect escalation of drug use, and the development of dependence is currently unknown. Although early use of a drug is a necessary step in the progression to abuse and dependence, other variables may be of greater importance in the transition from use to abuse. Alternatively, the same variables that predict initial acute drug effects and early use may significantly contribute to continued use, escalation and dependence. Here we review the existing evidence for relations between initial direct drug effects, early use, and continued use. Ultimately, these relations can only be determined from systematic longitudinal studies with comprehensive assessments from early drug responses to progression of problem drug use. In parallel, additional investigation of initial responses in animal models as predictors of drug use will shed light on the underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1565-1576
Number of pages12
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Acute drug effects
  • Drug abuse
  • Human
  • Initiation
  • Nonhuman
  • Predictors
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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