Tying complex psychological processes to precisely defined neural circuits is a major goal of systems and behavioural neuroscience. This is critical for understanding adaptive behaviour, and also how neural systems are altered in states of psychopathology, such as addiction. Efforts to relate psychological processes relevant to addiction to activity within defined neural circuits have been complicated by neural heterogeneity. Recent advances in technology allow for manipulation and mapping of genetically and anatomically defined neurons, which when used in concert with sophisticated behavioural models, have the potential to provide great insight into neural circuit bases of behaviour. Here we discuss contemporary approaches for understanding reward and addiction, with a focus on midbrain dopamine and cortico-striato-pallidal circuits.