Terry Robinson and Kent Berridge | Courtesy of UofL

A research duo behind a 25-year-old theory explaining drug addiction won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in psychology, the University of Louisville announced Wednesday.

Terry Robinson and Kent Berridge, both University of Michigan researchers, explain how the human brain differentiates between liking and wanting something in the “Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction.”

The process behind wanting something typically involved dopamine, while liking something does not, the researchers said. Drug addicts’ dopamine systems can become hypersensitive to drugs, increasing the wanting feeling and making it more difficult to avoid drug use, they found.

Using the theory to reverse the system and reduce compulsions could lead to better addiction treatments, they proposed in their 1993 theory — winning 25 years after being published.

“Their idea has had a broad impact on how we understand drug addiction and other addictive compulsions such as gambling, binge eating and sex,” UofL psychology professor and director of the psychology award Woody Petry said in a news release. “Its scope also extends to brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.”

Berridge and Robinson’s theory initially “ran contrary to all thinking about pleasure systems,” the news release said. Over two decades later, it is widely supported and credited.

Wednesday’s psychology prize is the third of four Grawemeyer Awards announced this week. A Dutch composer won the music award on Monday, with a trio of academics winning the prize for world order Tuesday. Each prize comes with $100,000.