Alcohol dependence, a chronic relapsing psychiatric disorder, is a major cause of mortality and morbidity. The role of dopamine in alcohol‐induced reward as well in the development of alcohol dependence is reviewed herein. Both preclinical and clinical studies have suggested that alcohol activates the mesolimbic dopamine system (defined as a dopamine projection from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens (NAc, i.e. ventral striatum)) leading to a euphoric sensation. Alcohol dependence is characterized by a disruption in the reward‐related brain areas including fewer dopamine D2 receptors in ventral striatum. Investigations of the underlying dopaminergic mechanisms involved during the development and maintenance of alcohol dependence could identify novel targets. Human and rodent experimental studies show that dopamine receptor antagonists, agonists and partial agonists as well as dopamine stabilizers influencing dopamine transmission, alter alcohol‐mediated behaviours and thus may be potential treatment targets for alcohol dependence. Although there exists promising preclinical results, the majority of placebo‐controlled randomized clinical trials with traditional dopamine antagonists and agonists have so far have been discouraging. Furthermore, the severe side-effect profiles of many of these compounds may limit their clinical use. Newer dopamine agents, such as partial agonists and dopamine stabilizers, attenuate alcohol‐mediated behaviours in rodents as well as humans. Preclinical as well as clinical studies have shown that substances indirectly targeting the mesolimbic dopamine system may be potential targets for attenuation of alcohol reward. Collectively, the data reviewed herein may contribute to further understanding the complex mechanisms involved in development of alcohol dependence and we suggest that the newer dopamine agents as well as indirect modulators of dopamine signalling deserve to be further evaluated for treatment of alcohol dependence.
Part of the book: Recent Advances in Drug Addiction Research and Clinical Applications