Conditioning Processes in Opioid Dependence and in Relapse

  • Abraham Wikler


Although conditioning may play a role in the development of tolerance to opioids (see Chapter 6), this phenomenon and physical dependence are basically unconditioned; that is, they can be demonstrated in animal preparations virtually incapable of acquiring classically conditioned responses. Thus, Wilder and Frank (1948) reported the development of tolerance to the depressant effects of morphine and methadone on the flexor reflex in the chronic spinal dog, as well as well-defined abstinence syndromes after abrupt withdrawal of these drugs (hyperexcitability of the flexor reflex and spontaneous “running” movements of the paralyzed hind limbs). Earlier, Shurrager and Culler (1938, 1940) and Shur-rager and Shurrager (1946) reported that a semitendinosus twitch could be conditioned in acute spinal preparations; Dykman and Shurrager (1956) also described spinal conditioning in chronic preparations. However, Kellogg et al. (1947) and Deese and Kellogg (1949) were unable to obtain spinal conditioning in recent chronic preparations. Reinvestigating this question, Lloyd et al. (1969) were unable to demonstrate classical conditioning of the flexor reflex in three drug-free chronic spinal dogs even after a maximum of 2500 conditioning and 500 test trials; they concluded that at least in the adult dog, classical conditioning of a skeletal motor response requires the functional integrity of supraspinal as well as intraspinal pathways. Hence, classical conditioning could have played no role in the development of tolerance to and physical dependence on morphine or methadone in chronic spinal dogs.


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© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abraham Wikler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Kentucky Medical CenterLexingtonUSA

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