Cite this article

NIDA. (2009, August 5). Word of the Day: Brainstem. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
August 5 2009
Illustration of the brain showing the brainstem

Our bodies can do lots of things without us even thinking about it. And that’s what the Word of the Day is about. The brainstem, not surprisingly, is a “stem” that connects the brain to the spinal cord. Its basic functions include directing heart rate, breathing, arousal, and sleeping. Lucky for us, the brainstem does all these things automatically. That’s why you don’t forget to breathe when you’re asleep!

How? The brainstem directs the spinal cord, other parts of the brain, and the body to do what is necessary to maintain our life.

The brainstem is one of the more primitive parts of our brain—it dates back to the age of the dinosaurs! Just like another primitive part of our brain, the limbic system. One of the reasons that addictive drugs exert such powerful control over our behavior is that they act directly on our primitive brainstem and limbic system.

For more brainy words, check out the NIDA for Teens glossary that fuels SBB’s words of the day.