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Behavioural approach to addiction

By Sab and Josh

The reward pathway makes us feel good when we engage in behaviours that are necessary for our survival. You are motivated to continue this behaviour because the reward pathway releases the chemical dopamine which gives you a sense of pleasure. The shorter the time between the action and reward the more reinforcing it is. Some people are more genetically vulnerable to being addicted than other people.

Application to smoking
When you smoke your brain release dopamine which causes you to have a sense of pleasure. The reward system will then record a memory of this pleasurable feeling and the person will be likely to repeat the action. Family and twins studies estimate the heritability of tobacco smoking to be up to 80%.

Application to Gambling
When winning in gambling, the brain releases dopamine which causes the person to repeat the same actions in order to benefit the outcomes, one of them being a sense of pleasure. Studies have shown that gambling runs in families where Black (2006) had found that first degree relatives of gamblers were more likely to suffer from gambling . This shows that there is a strong genetic link.

Pituitary-adrenal response: research suggests that gambling is linked to an underactive pituitaryadrenal response. In a study shown cortisol levels were recorded before and after a set of videos were shown. Recreation gamblers had a significant increase in salivary cortisol levels whereas pathological gamblers had no increase in salivary cortisol levels. This means the pathological gamblers do not see the consequence of their actions and therefore will continue to do so.

Effects of nicotine: it was reported that nicotine dependence is mainly by genetic factors (75%) nicotine affects brain chemistry by activating nicotine acetylcholine, this leads to the release of dopamine which gives the individual feelings of pleasure. Links to the reward system.

Boredom avoidance: addicted gamblers are seen as people who need intense simulation and excitement as blaszczynski found that addicted gamblers had a much higher boredom proneness score as compared to non gamblers.

+ Explains Individual Differences - Genetic explanations for addiction explains why some people become addicted and others do not when they are both exposed to the same social situations or stressors. Some people have a genetic predisposition for addiction (Diathesis Stress model), so are more likely to become addicted to smoking or gambling in response to stressors than someone without the genetic disposition.

- / + Value of Animal Research Animals become addicted to the same drugs as humans do, however it hard to generalise from animals to humans as addiction is complex and animals, especially as human and animals have a different genetic make up. However animal studies allow us to research valuable information, such as brain stimulation which maybe unethical on humans.

- Reductionist - Biological explanation reduces a complex phenomenon like addiction down to a simple explanation - the influence of genes or imbalance of brain chemicals. Biological explanation does not consider the influence of faulty cognitive processes or influence of peers and social learning.

- Correlation Studies - Many studies have found that there is an association between dopamine and addiction. However social interaction can influence dopamine, a study on monkeys found that those who lost social status soon had lower levels of dopamine, this can be the case in humans as well especially when their life is characterised by stress and poverty. Volkow found people with higher status who grew up in stimulating environment were less likely to become addicted, this is because there were far more natural stimuli for people to engage in, and so they did not need artificial boosts from drugs and gambling to provide them with happiness.