Behavioural models of Addiction

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  • Behavioural Models of Addiction
    • Classical conditioning
      • When someone learns an addiction they learn an association between the addictive behaviour and a buzz. This can explain the initiation of addictive behaviour.
      • Classical conditioning is not so useful when explaining behavioural addictions. If addiction is due to an association between gambling behaviour and winning, then why do addicts continue to gamble despite negative repurcussions
    • Operant conditioning
      • Initiation
        • Any behaviour producing a consequence that the individual finds rewarding is likely to lead to that behaviour then becoming more frequent. All positive reinforcers have the same physiological effect. This effect can be produced by natural reinforcers but also by addictive drugs.
      • Maintenance and relapse
        • After repeated exposure to certain drugs, withdrawal symptoms appear if the drug is discontinued. These withdrawal symptoms can be reduced if the the drug is taken again. Due to the fact withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, any reduction in these effects would therefore constitute negative reinforcement. This explains why so many addicts maintain their addictions and relapse.
    • Social learning theory
      • Initiation
        • Learning takes place through observation and imitation of role models. Addictions can be learned in the same way. We are more likely to witness the positives rather than the negatives of additions. Vicarious reinforcement may lead to the imitation of these addictive behaviours.
      • Maintenance and relapse
        • Most drugs have both positive and negative effects, this means users are motivated to both approach a drug and avoid it. This creates an approach avoidance conflict, where motivation fluctuates between wanting to use the drug and wanting to stop. Addicts have also learned to associate other stimuli with the drug. If after a period of abstinence, they come into contact with one of these cues, they are more likely to relapse.
    • Evaluation
      • Siegel et al (1982) conducted a study on rats. Two groups of rats were given heroin until they developed a tolerance to it.Then the dose was doubled. For one group of rats, this dose was given in the usual room, for the other half, it was given in a different room. 32% of the rats that had double the dose in the usual room died, compared to 64% in the new room. Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are a conditioned response to drug-related stimuli. When there is no familiar stimulus to allow for the anticipation of the drug, compensatory effects are not triggered and the body is less prepared to deal with a large quantity of the drug.
      • Researchers have also raised questions about the extent to which behaviours like excessive gambling adhere to operant theory at all, since gamblers often lose more than they win.
      • Despite evidence supporting both theories, neither social learning, nor conditioning alone is sufficient to explain addiction. While social learning can effectively explain the initiation of addiction, it explains the maintenance and relapse less well. It seems that conditioning is a better explanation for maintenance and relapse.
      • Drugs such as heroin and cocaine are rewarding as they activate the reward pathways in the brain. Therefore, form this model, it is easy to see why people become addicts. However, many people take potentially addictive drugs, but do not always become addicted. Therefore, individual differences are not taken into account which suggests there are other psychological factors.
      • The central idea of social learning theory that stresses the importance of role models in shaping behaviour is able to explain how media representations of smoking, drinking can influence people to initiate and maintain addictive behaviours.
      • In many instances of people being engaged in the same behaviour, addiction is only present in some cases. Learning theory help account for these individual differences, i.e. those who receive constant rewards from alcohol consumption are more likely to develop an addiction.
      • Botvin (2000) suggests that effective forms of drug prevention programmes should target beginner adolscents. It is at this crucial development period that adolescents are most vulnerable to the influence of peers in particular, and are therefore in most need of drug-resistant skills. Resistance training not only teaches adolescents how to refuse drugs but informs them of the consequences.


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