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NIDA. (2004, April 1). Key NIDA Accomplishments. Retrieved from

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April 01, 2004

The Addicted Brain and Behavior

  • Developed animal models that scientists use to explore a variety of human drug abuse and addictive behaviors and conduct initial screening of potential treatment compounds.
  • Discovered that naturally occurring neurotransmitters act at opioid receptors in the brain and that heroin and other opiates activate the same sites to produce their addictive effects.
  • Identified and cloned the dopamine transporter, the primary brain site where cocaine acts to initiate the cascade of biochemical events that result in euphoria and, ultimately, addiction; subsequently cloned the brain receptors through which every major drug of abuse initiates the complex chain of neurochemical events that produce their addictive effects.
  • Demonstrated that drug-induced flooding of the nucleus accumbens area of the brain with dopamine is ultimately involved in producing the addictive effects of every abused drug.
  • Revealed an intricate network of interrelated biological mechanisms and neurotransmitters that either inhibit or increase dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, providing new biological targets for developing treatment medications.
  • Discovered that cocaine abusers and obese individuals have low levels of a key dopamine receptor that allows people to experience pleasure. This deficit may contribute to vulnerability to compulsive behaviors, such as drug abuse and overeating, that cause a surge in dopamine levels.
  • Identified genetic variations that affect the rate of metabolism of nicotine linked to risk of initial abuse and addiction to smoking.
  • Used brain imaging studies to document and characterize brain damage from long-term methamphetamine, and cocaine abuse in humans.

Drug Abuse Prevention

  • Established the scientific basis for the development of effective prevention programs by identifying individual, family, and neighborhood factors that put children at risk for drug abuse and addiction.
  • Synthesized the findings of the initial two decades of prevention research in the first research-based guide to drug abuse prevention. The booklet, Preventing Drug Abuse Among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide, describes the elements of successful drug abuse prevention programs, explains what research has uncovered about risk and protective factors for drug abuse, and answers questions on designing, implementing, and assessing drug abuse prevention programs.
  • Updated the research-based prevention guide in 2003 to include significant advances in prevention science made in the previous 5 years for use by parents, teachers, community leaders, and service providers working to prevent drug abuse among children and teenagers.
  • Issued Assessing Drug Abuse Within and Across Communities: Community Epidemiology Surveillance Networks on Drug Abuse, which has helped communities, cities, counties, and States determine the extent of drug abuse problems in their areas and select drug abuse prevention and treatment programs tailored to their needs.

Medications Development

  • Demonstrated the effectiveness of using adequate doses of methadone administered in a comprehensive treatment program to manage heroin addiction and reduce transmission of infectious diseases.
  • Partnered with pharmaceutical companies to develop and secure FDA approval of the opiate treatment medications naltrexone, an opiate blocker; LAAM, a long-lasting form of methadone; and buprenorphine, a safer medication that is less likely to be abused.
  • Established cocaine and methamphetamine treatment discovery programs to screen and develop a variety of compounds that can address all aspects of addiction to these drugs.
  • Defined the central role of nicotine in cigarette smoking and dependence and provided the scientific basis for the development of nicotine replacement therapies--the transdermal nicotine patch, nicotine gum, and the nicotine inhaler--that have helped smokers overcome their addiction to cigarettes.

Behavioral Therapies

  • Established a rational model for developing behavioral therapies, enabling researchers to take new treatments from concept to clinical application.
  • Demonstrated the effectiveness of a broad range of behavioral therapies for drug abuse, described in NIDA's research dissemination booklet, Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment.
  • Developed detailed manuals for clinicians on how to implement five research-tested cognitive-behavioral treatments for cocaine abuse.
  • Supported research to develop and test treatments for patients suffering from co-existing mental and addictive disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and cocaine abuse.