The Biological Approach to Addiction

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Initiation: AO1

  • Addicts inherit a genetic predisposition to developing an addiction
  • Multiple genes are responsible for addictive behaviour
  • Researchers have focused on the A1 variant of the DRD2 gene - a gene involved in the regulation of dopamine levels

             - This gene may increase sensitivity to the action of dopamine

  • More recently researchers have identified specific genes, e.g. SLC6A3-9 (which is responsible for removing dopamine from the synapse) which may also be involved with addiction

Maintenance: AO1

  • Addicts inherit a more sensitive mesolimbic dopamine system 
  • The mesolimbic dopamine system is: concerned with memory, reward and motivational processes
  • Also involved with the maintenance of addictive behaviour
  • Normally cells in the mesolimbic dopamine system release small amounts of dopamine to the synapse
  • Addictive behaviours and substances increase dopamine levels
  • Addicts continue with their addictive behaviour to maintain increasingly high levels of dopamine (tolerance)
  • Falling levels of dopamine can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms


  • Substances such as nicotine activate the dopamine reward pathway and the brain adapts to be in balance when the substance is present (neuroadaptation) 
  • When the substance is discontinued the adaptation is no longer needed and is experiences as withdrawal symptoms which are unpleasant and immediately relieved by using the substance



  • Research evidence to support the model
  • It has lead to effective treatments 
    e.g. Nicotine replacement therapy


  • Absolves addicts responsibility 
    - Treatment is less likely to work
  • Ignores other approaches 
    - Doesn't explain initiation as well as behavioural and or cognitive approach

Application to smoking:


A meta-analysis by Thorgeirsson et al (2008) analysed…


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