The brain’s reward system
An annotated guide to the areas of the brain involved with reward
The ‘buzz’ experienced with many drugs is rooted in the boost they give to dopamine activity in the brain’s reward system. This reward system – also known as the mesolimbic pathway – begins in the midbrain and extends into the forebrain and frontal lobes. For more on parts of the brain, see our annotated guide to the brain.
- Ventral tegmental area – Found in the midbrain, this area produces dopamine and forms part of one of four major dopamine pathways in the brain. Affected by drugs including nicotine, alcohol and opioids (eg heroin).
- Nucleus accumbens – A small region in the forebrain with ancient evolutionary origins, which helps regulate survival drives like food and thirst. Affected by drugs including cocaine, amphetamine, cannabinoids (eg cannabis) and opioids (eg heroin).
- Prefrontal cortex – Part of the frontal lobe that is involved in many cognitive functions, including memory, language, planning and decision making.
- Alila Medical Media: Mechanism of drug addiction in the brain (animation)
- Learn Genetics: The reward pathway reinforces behaviour
- Atlas of the Human Brain
- Inside the Brain poster [PDF 3MB]