George R Uhl Revised by Amy Loerch Strumolo

Learning The role played by learning factors in drug and alcohol abuse has recently received much attention. Two basic learning mechanisms are thought to be activated when an organism repeatedly self-administers a psychoactive substance. First, classical conditioning processes are engaged when environmental stimuli signal the upcoming effects of the drug. Second, operant conditioning occurs as an organism learns that particular behaviors lead either to a drug reward or to punishment. The effects of these two processes presumably interact, and they are thought to influence repeated drug use and/or relapse to drug use following a period of abstinence.

Classical conditioning occurs when an organism learns about a contingency between two events in the external environment. The most common situation involves learning that a biologically neutral event (the conditioned stimulus, CS, such as a light or a tone) signals the upcoming occurrence of a biologically relevant event (the unconditioned stimulus, US, such as the effects of a drug or the

WITHDRAWAL syndrome from absence of a drug). As a result of this signaling relationship, the CS produces conditioned responses (CRs), related to the US in use. In the area of drug use, a number of investigators have suggested that environmental events that signal upcoming withdrawal or drug use in humans elicit CRs—which motivate further drug taking (Baker, Morse, & Sherman, 1987).

Operant conditioning involves learning about contingencies between behaviors and their outcomes. A typical operant conditioning situation sets up contingencies between three different events—a response; the outcome of that response (the reward or reinforcer); and the stimulus situation in which that response—outcome relationship is established (the discriminative stimulus). Drugs of abuse function as potent reinforcers for human addicts, since a variety of behaviors are directed solely toward their attainment and use. Consequently, understanding the rules governing the acquisition of operant behaviors directed toward drug reinforcers may be critical to understanding addiction.

Classical and operant conditioning processes may be activated simultaneously during drug seeking and self-administration. Events that have consistently signaled drug use may eventually come to evoke CRs in the form of craving—urges to use the drug. In this way, signals of drug use may act as discriminative stimuli motivating the drug user to begin drug-seeking behavior. For example, walking past a known dealer might act as a CS for a heroin addict, evoking the CR of craving for HEROIN. This craving response might then increase the likelihood of behaviors that are rewarded by the desired drug effects—buying and preparing heroin.

Alcohol No More

Alcohol No More

Do you love a drink from time to time? A lot of us do, often when socializing with acquaintances and loved ones. Drinking may be beneficial or harmful, depending upon your age and health status, and, naturally, how much you drink.

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