Biology of Drug Abuse

Academic year
Subject Area
Integrative Biology
Language of Instruction
Mode of Delivery
ECTS Credits
2nd Cycle Studies - Mestrado

Recommended Prerequisites

Cell biology, molecular biology, and human physiology.


Teaching Methods

Lectures: mostly based on the analysis of scientific data.

Theoretical-practcal classes: students present topics related to subjects addressed in the lectures (guidelines with objectives are provided), problem solving and case studies.

Learning Outcomes

The course provides knowledge on the functioning of the nervous system, from cells and neuronal networks to perception, cognition and behavior. Teaching is based on the effects of drugs on the brain, which provide cases for problem solving-based learning, stimulating the application of concepts, the integration of information at different levels of biological organization, and the development of analytical and conceptualization skills.

The students will also get acquainted with several brain research tools and models, from molecular biology to brain imaging and behavioral assays.

Work Placement(s)



Psychostimulant drugs: from the mechanisms of potentiation of dopaminergic and adrenergic synapses to the effects on behavior; neurotoxicity of amphetamines; cocaine and brain development

Opiates: from the modulation of the electrical activity of neurons to the effects on pain; molecular, cellular and circuit adaptations underlying opiate tolerance, dependence and withdraw symptoms.

Alcohol: from the mechanisms of action on the nerve cells to the effects on motor control.

Hallucinogens and altered perception.

Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system: synaptic plasticity, immunomodulation, role in reproduction; therapeutic potential.

Nicotine and the brain systems of attention.

Caffeine and the adenosine receptors: modulation of the activity of neurons, astrocytes and microglia cells.

Synaptic plasticity triggered by drugs of abuse and dysfunction of brain circuits.

Relationship between stress and addiction.

Genetic predisposition to drug abuse and addiction.

Therapies of addiction.

Assessment Methods

Synthesis work: 10.0%
Oral presentation and discussion of a topic: 20.0%
Exam: 70.0%


Meyer, J. S., & Quenzer, L. F. (2004) Psychopharmacology: Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior. Sunderland, MA, USA: Sinauer Associates.

Purves, D. et al (2012) Neuroscience (5th Ed). Sinauer Associates.

Review and research papers (made available at Inforestud@nte).