The mesocorticolimbic system is the reward centre of the brain and the major target for drugs of abuse including alcohol. Neuroadaptive changes in this region are thought to underlie the process of tolerance and dependence. Recently, several research groups have searched for alcohol-responsive genes using high-throughput microarrays and well-characterized human post-mortem material. Comparison of data from these studies of cortical regions highlights the differences in experimental approach and selection of cases. However, alcohol-responsive gene sets associated with transcription, oxidative stress and energy production were common to these studies. In marked contrast, alcohol-responsive genes in the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area are primarily associated with changes in neurotransmission and signal transduction. These data support the concept that, within cortical regions, changes in gene expression are associated with alcoholism-related pathology. In the dopaminergic tract of the mesocorticolimbic system, alcohol-responsive gene sets suggest long-term neuroplastic changes in synaptic transmission.