Classical and Operant Conditioning and Substance Misuse

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2. Psychological Factors and Substance Misuse: How do the ideas of Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning explain why someone might misuse drugs? How can these theories be applied to the treatment of substance misuse? (1500 words)

Learning (conditioning) is the process that eventually leads to relative permanent change in behavior or training. Some things are innate - we are born with the knowledge but others must be acquired actively. Thus, it is ‘an adaptive process in which the tendency to perform a particular behaviour is changed by experience.’ (Carlson et al, 2005). With the change of circumstances, new behaviours are learned and old ones are eradicated. Peterson & McBridge (2005) believe that unlike biological theories that emphasise on the physical structure and the brain, psychological theories associate behaviour to processes that occur within the person’s mind. In his research, McMurran (1994) highlights six such behavioral theories that indicate relevance to substance misuse and dependency, two out of which are Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning. While both result in learning, the processes are quite different. However, the two have always been classed as important concepts and are central to Behavioral Psychology. The assignment will focus on the two learning that affect the behaviours by the pairing of stimuli reflecting onto some of the factors that lead to substance misuse. It will then explore how the theories also contribute for the treatment of substance misuse and dependency. Classical Conditioning

Carlson et al (2005) emphasizes that classical conditioning involves learning about the conditions that foresee that an important event is going to take place. An internet source (simplypsychology), states that in this type of conditioning, ‘the condition that is responded is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus’. This theory was developed by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) with his experiment with dogs. In the theory, Pavlov (1902) brought about the idea that dogs produced saliva when they saw a food dish, in anticipation for the meal to come. (Peterson & McBridge, 2005, p.32) He believed that the saliva produced was the outcome of a behaviour when the dog was able to associate one stimuli (the dish) with another (the food) and thus, portrayed the idea that association could be learnt. He further experimented using a bell as a neutral stimulus to observe if dogs were able to make associations with other stimuli prior to food delivery and was successful in his verdict after repeating it a number of times as this eventually caused the dogs to salivate in response to the bell even when no food was coming forth. A new behaviour had been learnt as the dog was now being able to associate the bell with the food. The unconditioned stimulus was the food and the salivation was the unconditioned response. However with time, the sound of the bell predicted the appearance of food and thus, the bell which acted as the neutral stimuli was able to convince the dogs to associate it with food and became the conditioned stimulus and the salivation that latter occurred on hearing the bell, was then the conditioned response. Pavlovian conditioning later laid emphasis on the fact that ‘sequence and timing’ (Carlson et al, 2005, p.239) were also very significant factors because if the timing of the performance was late, the dogs would not associate the neutral stimulus (the bell) to food thereby, rejecting it to be the conditioned stimulus. In relation to how someone might misuse drugs, McCrady & Epstein (1999) said that classical conditioning is believed to ‘facilitate development or drinking problem or craving through pairing of conditioned stimuli such as particular sites of use or people and the unconditioned stimulus (drugs), the result being a conditioned response or conditioned craving.’ For example, Suzanna was first introduced to heroin by her boyfriend...
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