Serotonin & Substance Abuse Relapse

Nature Lone Tree in Field

According to Harvard Medical School, addiction “exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.” [1]

It may appear that those who struggle with addictive behaviors have “lost their minds.” In fact, the brain does play a significant role in addiction, particularly serotonin and dopamine.

It has long been understood that the chemical dopamine is activated in the brain during pleasurable experiences. According to Psychology Today, dopamine “causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search” for things that give you a sense of pleasure and creates “reward-seeking loops in the sense that people will repeat pleasurable behavior.” [2]

Therefore, researchers have theorized that reducing dopamine activity may be essential to reducing drug craving and the pleasure associated with using illegal drugs. [3] How is this done? Through activating serotonin receptors.

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have been studying the use of lorcaserin in helping decrease the power of dopamine through activating serotonin receptors using the drug lorcaserin. Specifically, they are researching the impact of lorcaserin on the cravings for drugs such as heroin and cocaine in rhesus monkeys.

Asian American Woman or Girl in Wheat FieldAccording to the National Institue on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Lisa Gerak, Dr. Charles France, and their team trained the monkeys to administer either cocaine or heroin through pressing a lever. After withdrawing the drugs and giving the monkeys lorcaserin, they measured how actively the monkeys would seek out the drugs once they were available again.

Initial results have been promising. In both heroin and cocaine use, lorcaserin given to the monkeys decreased drug-seeking behavior. NIDA reports, “The experiments found that monkeys that were pretreated with lorcaserin were less likely to seek cocaine or heroin (i.e., made fewer lever presses) after withdrawal and reinstatement than control monkeys.”

The FDA has already approved lorcaserin as a weight-loss drug, which reduces cravings for food. If reducing the strength of cravings through medication such as lorcaserin is combined with therapy, medical care, and social support, recovery might become more of a reality for many struggling with addiction.


1. Harvard Health Publishing. (2011, July). How addiction hijacks the brain. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from

2. Psychology Today. (n.d.). Dopamine. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from

3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, March 10). Serotonin Receptor Agonist Lorcaserin Reduces Relapse to Drug Use in Monkeys. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from

About the Authors:

Travis StewartTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Travis’ website is

Co-authored by Laura J. Stewart, Missouri State University

Laura J. Stewart received her Bachelor degrees in Psychology and Gerontology in 2020 from Missouri State University. She has worked with senior adults in an assisted living environment and as a mental health tech in residential eating disorder treatment. Her interests include eating disorders, gerontology, and organizational psychology.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 8, 2020
Published June 8, 2020, on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.