man looking at his phone

Where Does Reward Seeking Behavior Come From?

In Addiction, Recovery by Tree House RecoveryLeave a Comment

Reward-seeking behavior is crux of the problem of addiction. What leads a man to seek reward through drugs and alcohol? How can he redefine and reprogram this inherent system of his being in order to live a clean and sober life? Every man has a story of his own, a compilation of life experiences, personality traits, genetics, and more. How we respond to life differs greatly among each of us and contributes individually to our reward seeking behaviors.

Much of the treatment process centers on creating new neural circuits for pleasure in order to reprogram the brain from seeking drugs and alcohol for pleasure. At any sign of stress, distress, or negative input, the brain seeks pleasure, which, through consistent abuse and the development of chemical addiction, the brain has been programmed to seek in drugs and alcohol. Reward-seeking behavior is not restricted to the use of drugs and alcohol. There are many parts of addiction, the actual substances themselves playing a small role. Drug-seeking behavior, obtaining the drugs, and the effects after the use of substances are all part of the process.

The University of North Carolina recently discovered just how the prefrontal cortex controls reward-seeking behaviors. Researchers used mice and a drink made with sugar to test the response of neurons in the prefrontal cortex, Relia Wire reports. Mice associated a sound with the drink. When the association was made, a particular group of neurons became more active. Simultaneously, other groups of neurons did not react and instead, “those neurons act like a brake on reward-seeking.”

Reward-processing and other critical functions take place in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex where the various groups of neurons act together. The “dmPFC” neurons changed as the reward-process continued to be conditioned. The article describes a “Pavlovian” response where the mice would begin to lick their mouths in response to the sound which indicated the sugary drink would be coming.

One of the researchers touched on how the model of this research implicates addiction. The activation of motivation and decision-making is not exclusive to the dmPFC. Many different areas of the brain experience similar reactions. “It is critical for motivation and decision making,” one researcher said, “and of course it can go awry in drug and food addiction, depression, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.” Addiction is, in part, a disease of response-system dysfunction. The more we learn about the nuances of the brain on a neural level, the more advanced our treatments can become in helping men learn how to stay abstinent from addictive drugs and alcohol, long-term.


Tree House Recovery is a men’s residential treatment program in Portland, Oregon, offering men the journey of finding freedom from addiction. Creating a sustainable recovery through sustainable change, our programs help men revolutionize their life through total transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474


Leave a Comment