Perspectives on the P300 event-related brain potential (ERP) are reviewed by outlining the distinction between the P3a and P3b subcomponents. The critical factor for eliciting P3a is how target/standard discrimination difficulty rather than novelty modulates task processing. The neural loci of P3a and P3b generation are sketched and a theoretical model is developed. P3a originates from stimulus-driven disruption of frontal attention engagement during task processing. P3b originates when temporal-parietal mechanisms process the stimulus information for memory storage. The neuropharmacological implications of this view are then outlined by evaluating how acute and chronic use of ethanol, marijuana, and nicotine affect P3a and P3b. The findings suggest that the circuit underlying ERP generation is influenced in a different ways for acute intake and varies between chronic use levels across drugs. Theoretical implications are assessed.