Return to: ICDC Home: U of M Home

Gold University of Minnesota M. Skip to main content.University of Minnesota. Home page.
University of Minnesota Impulse Control Disorders Clinic

What's inside.

About Us

Clinical Trials

Rating Scales

Principles of Treatment


Media Coverage


What is craving?

Brain Imaging Studies

Reinforcement Learning

Recommended Reading

Useful Links


Disclaimer and Privacy


Impulse Control Disorders Clinic Home


What is craving?

This page explains what craving is. Please read through the eight diagrams below:













Higher brain structures like the orbital frontal cortex, prelimbic area and selected prefrontal area receive and interpret incoming sensory information. When a rewarding sensory input or thought is detected pyramidal cells in the prelimbic area sends signals to the core of nucleus accumbens where the feelings of motivation, urge or craving are generated so that the person has sufficient motivation (energy) to engage in a behavior to secure the targeted rewarding object. The molecule that mediates this signal is glutamate. The prefrontal brain simultaneously sends a signal to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to activate dopamine neurons in the VTA. When these dopamine neurons are activated dopamine is released in the core of nucleus accumbens and augments the glutamate function mentioned above. Together they generate powerful motivation for us to engage in foraging and other reward seeking behavior. Once the rewards have been fulfilled animals and humans feel satisfaction, pleasure and/or excitement. When these circuits are overheated mammals feel uncontrollable urges to engage in a behavior even if the behavior might bring about unbearable pain down the road (loss of money in gambling, for example). We call these addictions: behavioral addictions (gambling, shopping, shoplifting) or drug addictions.

(back to top)


The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

Developed by JD Villareal