Alcohol and drug use can dysregulate neural circuit function to produce a wide range of neuropsychiatric disorders, including addiction. To understand the neural circuit computations that mediate behavior, and how substances of abuse may transform them, we must first be able to observe the activity of circuits. While many techniques have been utilized to measure activity in specific brain regions, these regions are made up of heterogeneous sub-populations, and assessing activity from neuronal populations of interest has been an ongoing challenge. To fully understand how neural circuits mediate addiction-related behavior, we must be able to reveal the cellular granularity within brain regions and circuits by overlaying functional information with the genetic and anatomical identity of the cells involved. The development of genetically encoded calcium indicators, which can be targeted to populations of interest, allows for in vivo visualization of calcium dynamics, a proxy for neuronal activity, thus providing an avenue for real-time assessment of activity in genetically and anatomically defined populations during behavior. Here, we highlight recent advances in calcium imaging technology, compare the current technology with other state-of-the-art approaches for in vivo monitoring of neural activity, and discuss the strengths, limitations, and practical concerns for observing neural circuit activity in preclinical addiction models.