Considering Drug-Associated Contexts in Substance Use Disorders and Treatment Development

Mandy Rita LeCocq, Patrick A. Randall, Joyce Besheer, Nadia Chaudhri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Environmental contexts that are reliably associated with the use of pharmacologically active substances are hypothesized to contribute to substance use disorders. In this review, we provide an updated summary of parallel preclinical and human studies that support this hypothesis. Research conducted in rats shows that environmental contexts that are reliably paired with drug use can renew extinguished drug-seeking behavior and amplify responding elicited by discrete, drug-predictive cues. Akin to drug-associated contexts, interoceptive drug stimuli produced by the psychopharmacological effects of drugs can also influence learning and memory processes that play a role in substance use disorders. Findings from human laboratory studies show that drug-associated contexts, including social stimuli, can have profound effects on cue reactivity, drug use, and drug-related cognitive expectancies. This translationally relevant research supports the idea that treatments for substance use disorders could be improved by considering drug-associated contexts as a factor in treatment interventions. We conclude this review with ideas for how to integrate drug-associated contexts into treatment-oriented research based on 4 approaches: pharmacology, brain stimulation, mindfulness-based relapse prevention, and cognitive behavioral group therapy. Throughout, we focus on alcohol- and tobacco-related research, which are two of the most prevalent and commonly misused drugs worldwide for which there are known treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-54
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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