Health Psychology Content


Health Psychology Content

Explanations for substance misuse

·      Drugs are mind-altering substances

·      Substance misuse refers to the use of a drug in a way that affects the individual’s mental and physical health.

·      The use of a drug is ‘abuse’ or ‘misuse’ when it interferes with social and personal functioning.

·      Some drugs, such as barbiturates, are prescribed for physical and/or mental health problems, and other drugs are called ‘recreational drugs’ because they are taken purely for pleasure.

Biological Explanation: Neuronal transmission

·      How the drug works in the brain.

·      Neuronal transmission can explain why there is a pleasure response and why there is a tolerance effect (where more of the drug is needed to get the same pleasure response, up to a certain quantity).

·      A drug, like a neurotransmitter, acts at the receptors of a neuron.

·      This occurs at the synapse

·      A synapse is the gap between the receptors of one neuron and the terminal buttons of another.

·      A drug (recreational or medical) can be taken up by the relevant receptors of a neuron, or the drug can block receptors so that uptake of a neurotransmitter does not take place.

·      For example, heroin works a like morphine – it acts on opioids receptors and this activity causes changes at the receptors.

·      The receptors of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, are involved in drug misuse and addiction; both of these neurotransmitters are linked to pleasure and positive emotions.

·      Opioids like heroin slow down brain activity and uptake of neurotransmitters so dopamine messages stay active for longer, again giving pleasurable feelings.

·      People continue to take the drug to get the pleasurable feelings, which explains drug misuse.

·      Some people may have underdeveloped dopamine or serotonin systems and so would seek more pleasure and be more likely to turn to drug use. This could explain why some people are more likely to become addicted than others.


·      Strengths

o   PET scans have shown that neuronal activity when someone is smoking a ‘normal’ cigarette is different from when someone is smoking a low-nicotine one. This suggests that neuronal activity is affected by nicotine and is evidence for the biological explanation.

o   Animal studies show that different drugs affect receptors in different ways, which is evidence from the biological explanation. Also, as such studies can be repeated, reliability of the findings can be shown.

·      Weaknesses

o   Animal studies have findings that might not apply to humans.

o   PET scans seem to show valid behaviour because they involve real behaviour, but the situation is still artificial so the findings might lack validity


A social learning explanation

·      Suggests that people learn by observing role models and then imitating their behaviour.

·      The individual observes, pays attention, remembers and then imitates, if motivated to do so.

·      The role


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