The Brain on Drugs: From Reward to Addiction

Cell. 2015 Aug 13;162(4):712-25. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.07.046.


Advances in neuroscience identified addiction as a chronic brain disease with strong genetic, neurodevelopmental, and sociocultural components. We here discuss the circuit- and cell-level mechanisms of this condition and its co-option of pathways regulating reward, self-control, and affect. Drugs of abuse exert their initial reinforcing effects by triggering supraphysiologic surges of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens that activate the direct striatal pathway via D1 receptors and inhibit the indirect striato-cortical pathway via D2 receptors. Repeated drug administration triggers neuroplastic changes in glutamatergic inputs to the striatum and midbrain dopamine neurons, enhancing the brain's reactivity to drug cues, reducing the sensitivity to non-drug rewards, weakening self-regulation, and increasing the sensitivity to stressful stimuli and dysphoria. Drug-induced impairments are long lasting; thus, interventions designed to mitigate or even reverse them would be beneficial for the treatment of addiction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Choice Behavior
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Dopamine