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The Brain & the Actions of Cocaine, Opiates, and Marijuana

15: Overall summary: these drugs of abuse all activate the reward system via increasing dopamine neurotransmission

These drugs of abuse all activate the reward system

In this last image, the binding of all three drugs is shown in one of the reward areas, the nucleus accumbens. Summarize that each drug increases the activity of the reward pathway by increasing dopamine transmission. This happens even though the drugs act by different mechanisms. Because of the way our brains are designed, and because these drugs activate a particular brain pathway for reward, they have the ability to be abused. Start a discussion; ask the students if they can think of any other drugs that are abused that probably activate the reward system in the same way. Answer: alcohol, nicotine, and amphetamine are good examples.

This page was last updated January 2007

NIDA Notes: The Latest in Drug Abuse Research

Teaching Packets

Explores the consequences of drug abuse on the brain and body and introduces the topics of prevention, and treatment.