Mechanistic insights into the efficacy of memantine in treating certain drug addictions

Chiara Montemitro, Alexandra Angebrandt, Tzu Yun Wang, Mauro Pettorruso, Osama A. Abulseoud

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The deleterious effects of the drug addiction epidemic are compounded by treatment strategies that are only marginally efficacious. Memantine is a unique glutamatergic medication with proven ability to attenuate drug addiction in preclinical models. However, clinical translational studies are inconsistent. In this review, we summarize preclinical evidences and clinical trials that investigated the efficacy of memantine in treating patients with alcohol, opiate, cocaine, and nicotine use disorders and discuss the results from a mechanistic point of view. Memantine has shown efficacy in reducing alcohol and opiate craving, consumption, and withdrawal severity. However, in cocaine and nicotine use disorders, memantine did not have significant effect on cravings or consumption. Additionally, memantine was associated with increased subjective effects of alcohol, cocaine, and nicotine. We discuss possible mechanisms behind this variability. Since memantine transiently blocks NMDA receptors and protects neurons from overstimulation by excessive synaptic glutamate, its efficacy should be observed in drug phases that cause hyperglutamatergic states, while hypoglutamatergic drug use states would not resolve with blocking NMDA receptors. Second, memantine pharmacokinetic studies have been done in rodents and healthy volunteers, but not in patients with substance use disorder. Memantine, opiates, cocaine, and nicotine share the same transporter family at the blood brain barrier. This shared transport mechanism could impact brain concentrations of memantine and its effects. In conclusion, memantine remains an intriguing compound in our pharmacopeia with controversial results in treating certain aspects of drug addiction. Further studies are needed to understand the clinical and biological correlates of its efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110409
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec 20

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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