Biological approach to addiction

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  • Created on: 06-02-13 18:51
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This approach suggests that we become addicted to something because going without
smoking is very unpleasant. The more we smoke cigarettes, the more tolerant we are to its
effects, so addicts must continue the addictive behaviour more and more to maintain the
subsequent positive feeling it creates. Neurotransmitters play a role in both chemical and
nonchemical addictions, as the addictive substance or behaviour causes changes in the
brain chemistry following repeated use. Dopamine is the main subject of research. As for
initiation, Lehrman et al. (1999) found people with the SCL6A39 gene are more likely to take
up smoking than those without it, suggesting that it is because of genetic predisposition that
we initiate the addictive behaviour of smoking. The role of genetics is also prominent, Vink et
al found that out of 1572 Dutch twins 44% of twins both smoked. Maintenance occurs as the
reason for continued smoking is a chemical addiction to the highly addictive substance,
nicotine. There is clear evidence that nicotine is highly addictive and produces changes in
how the brain works Vink also showed that nicotine dependence in twins is 75% genetic
factors. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is important for communication in many parts of
the brain, including the reward system. Nicotine increases dopamine release, providing a
positive, rewarding feeling. As for relapse the longterm use of nicotine leads to a high
tolerance to it. Stopping this use can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, so to avoid this,
the addict relapses. Xian et al found that genetic risk factors contributed to failed attempts at
quitting, 54% was down to heritability.
Shah et al. (2005) found evidence of a genetic transmission of gambling behaviour in men,
suggesting that there is a biological basis for gambling addiction, Black found that first degree
relatives were more likely to suffer from pathological gambling than more distant relatives.
Initiation is closely linked to the physical experience caused by gambling, explained in terms
of a positive reward theory. Gambling floods the body with adrenaline, which is thought to be
highly addictive due to the "rush" it provides. Maintenance of gambling was studied by Wray
and Dickinson (1981) found that gambling addicts who are stopped from gambling
experience symptoms almost like withdrawal symptoms. To avoid the negative feelings
associated with withdrawal, the addict continues to gamble. Also Zuckerman found that
gamblers are high sensation seekers and lower appreciation of risk, so are more likely to
gamble. Relapse shows that gamblers experience similar withdrawal symptoms to addicts
with substance addictions, so a theory stands that gamblers relapse in order to stop the
withdrawal symptoms. Cues associated with the behaviour, i.e. chips or dice, often cause a
relapse of dopamine that the original gambling behaviour did. This causes prediction of a
reward, which can cause a relapse too. But mostly it has been found that it is poor tolerance
of boredom that can cause relapse and contribute to repetitive gambling.


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