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The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction

7: Summary: addictive drugs activate the reward system via increasing dopamine neurotransmission

Addictive drugs activate the reward system

In this last slide, the reward pathway is shown along with several drugs that have addictive potential.  Just as heroin (morphine) and cocaine activate the reward pathway in the VTA and nucleus accumbens, other drugs such as nicotine and alcohol activate this pathway as well, although sometimes indirectly (point to the globus pallidus, an area activated by alcohol that connects to the reward pathway). While each drug has a different mechanism of action, each drug increases the activity of the reward pathway by increasing dopamine transmission.  Because of the way our brains are designed, and because these drugs activate this particular brain pathway for reward, they have the ability to be misused.   Thus, addiction is truly a disease of the brain.  Effective medications now available to treat opioid addiction work by acting partly on the same reward pathway; in the future, medications may also be available to treat addiction to cocaine and other drugs in a similar way.

This page was last updated November 2019

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NIDA. (2019, November 19). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/neurobiology-drug-addiction

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