Addictive properties of cocaine have been suggested to be mediated by an interplay of depletion (craving) and re-elevation (reinforcement) of dopamine (DA) levels in limbic brain area. In this study, direct measurement of dopamine in the extracellular fluid of rats freely self-administering cocaine was evaluated using in vivo microdialysis. Acute cocaine administration was associated with enhanced accumulation of DA in the nucleus accumbens, correlated with enhanced locomotor activity. In contrast, the increased DA overflow observed in drug-naive animals was attenuated in animals self-administering cocaine who had previous regular repeated (9-day) exposure to the drug. The results suggest that the absolute amount of DA in the extracellular space is not the critical factor correlated with the self-administration behavior. Additionally, the results indicate that the reduced ability of cocaine to re-elevate DA to first-time drug use is not due to a reduction of DA in the tissue or reduced DA synthesis, but may instead be associated with alterations of release and reuptake processes.