Drugs & Health Blog

Word of the Day: Brain Reward System

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Sara Bellum

A reward is a great way to encourage someone to do something. For example, if you offer a $300 reward to find your lost dog, people may be more likely to look for and return your dog. Or, if your parents offer to reward you for keeping your room clean or getting good grades, you have an incentive to do it.

Wired to want more...

Our brain has its own reward system. When we do certain things, the brain "rewards" us by making us feel good. The brain reward system is a brain circuit that causes feelings of pleasure when it's “turned on” by something we enjoy (see figure), like eating good food or being in love.

Whenever this reward circuit is activated, our brains note that something important is happening that's worth remembering and repeating. Drugs activate the brain reward system in a similar manner. However, most drugs set off a surge of the brain chemical dopamine, so they produce a much stronger and longer-lasting “artificial” pleasure sensation than natural highs.

...or just to use more?

The effect of such a powerful reward strongly motivates people to take drugs again and again, even when they no longer really want to. That can happen because drugs can actually reprogram the brain, so that every time a person takes the drug, the effect is a little weaker. So they have to take more and more of it to get the same feeling.

Eventually, a person can become addicted to the drug and use it compulsively, not so much to feel good but to keep from feeling bad. That’s the “sneaky” part of addiction.

NIDA provides lots of information about the how drug abuse targets the brain’s pleasure center:


Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Yeah! I totally agree with you. Once a man addicted to some drug he cant leave it.

It’s really a cool and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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drugs are bad

So why do we have Cannabinoid receptors in our brains? and why is part of our brains named after the Cannabis plant?

@Truth Cannabinoid receptors are involved in many functions of the brain and body and were named cannabinoid receptors because they bind with a chemical found in the cannabis plant. Research has shown that natural chemicals in our bodies bind to those receptors to help with normal functions (like appetite, mood, memory) and that adding additional chemicals that also bind to those receptors (like THC in marijuana) disturbs the normal balance. We also have nicotinic receptors in our bodies but of course that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to inhale nicotine.

I have a friend who was really overweight and lost 60 lbs after becoming vegan. I have been a vegan for 17 years; I am in my 50s and feel like 30s. I am so glad I discovered the vegan way to eat, because I feel so good!

wow nice site

what are the 2 neurotransmitters then??

Hi killua.  The two primary neurotransmitters associated with drug use and addiction are dopamine and serotonin.  Check our Word of the Day: Dopamine and Word of the Day: Serotonin to learn more.

Thanks I learned alot
I think this is a good idea you can reward yourself a cigarette if you don't smoke the day before.