The neural mechanisms underlying the transition from a drug-nondependent to a drug-dependent state remain elusive. Chronic exposure to drugs has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons. BDNF infusions into the VTA potentiate several behavioral effects of drugs, including psychomotor sensitization and cue-induced drug seeking. We found that a single infusion of BDNF into the VTA promotes a shift from a dopamine-independent to a dopamine-dependent opiate reward system, identical to that seen when an opiate-naïve rat becomes dependent and withdrawn. This shift involves a switch in the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors of VTA GABAergic neurons, from inhibitory to excitatory signaling.