The National Institute on Drug Abuse was founded in 1974, and since that time there have been significant advances in understanding the processes by which drugs of abuse cause addiction. The initial protein targets for almost all drugs of abuse are now known. Animal models that replicate key features of addiction are available, and these models have made it possible to characterize the brain regions that are important for addiction and other drug effects, such as physical dependence. A large number of drug-induced changes at the molecular and cellular levels have been identified in these brain areas and rapid progress is being made in relating individual changes to specific behavioral abnormalities in animal models of addiction. The current challenges are to translate this increasingly impressive knowledge of the basic neurobiology of addiction to human addicts, and to identify the specific genes that make some individuals either particularly vulnerable or resistant to addiction. In this article, I present a historical review of basic research on opiate and cocaine addiction.