Laboratory of Alcoholism and Addictions Neuroscience, Department of Psychology and Graduate Program in Neuroscience, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program, Translational Addictions Research Center, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.
This article represents one of five contributions focusing on the topic "Plasticity and neuroadaptive responses within the extended amygdala in response to chronic or excessive alcohol exposure" that were developed by awardees participating in the Young Investigator Award Symposium at the "Alcoholism and Stress: A Framework for Future Treatment Strategies" conference in Volterra, Italy on May 3-6, 2011 that was organized/chaired by Drs. Antonio Noronha and Fulton Crews and sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This review discusses the dependence-induced neuroadaptations in affective systems that provide a basis for negative reinforcement learning and presents evidence demonstrating that escalated alcohol consumption during withdrawal is a learned, plasticity-dependent process. The review concludes by identifying changes within extended amygdala dynorphin/kappa-opioid receptor systems that could serve as the foundation for the occurrence of negative reinforcement processes. While some evidence contained herein may be specific to alcohol dependence-related learning and plasticity, much of the information will be of relevance to any addictive disorder involving negative reinforcement mechanisms. Collectively, the information presented within this review provides a framework to assess the negative reinforcing effects of alcohol in a manner that distinguishes neuroadaptations produced by chronic alcohol exposure from the actual plasticity that is associated with negative reinforcement learning in dependent organisms.