Classical Conditioning and Addiction

 Classical Conditioning Addiction


Addiction is a rampant problem in our society that has affected nearly everyone’s lives in one way or another. I am in recovery and am working as a counselor in the field and have struggled with answering the question why do addicts do what they do knowing the negative consequences awaiting them.  Though one may say getting their lives and family back would be a good reinforcement for getting recovery, however it is what positive and negative affects are going on inside the person is what matters. Functionalism shows how we have adapted our lives to obtaining more dopamine. When we have sex or eat something good, we get a rush of dopamine, where now our elicit behaviors revolve around obtaining dopamine. Now what if I told you that doing a bag of heroin gets you 10x as much dopamine as eating your favorite food.

Addicts have been classically conditioned to associate the use of a substance with immense pleasure and satisfaction and the consequences become irrelevant. These consequences strengthen the addict’s desire and need to continue using. Once an addict seeks treatment, they are flooded with negative consequences both internally and externally. What once helped the addict ignore their problems and relieve stress and anxiety has only suppressed those feelings, making them explode all at once when they stop using. This punisher comes at such a high level, the addict will usually go back to using it. It is only through extinction that the addict can go about their life without needing the action of using it to reinforce a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure. The addict is solely focused on the preceding behavior and could care less what negative consequences come after.


  1. This take on addiction is refreshing! I have a close friend who has attended many AA meetings and the consensus refers to addiction as a "disease." This alone is extremely discouraging for people who are trying to better themselves. An interesting aspect is the external manipulation of "negative" and "positive" results, which are flipped. To an addict, the withdrawal and therapy are seen as "negative" and relapse is "positive." To an outsider, relapse is "negative" and therapy and abstinence are "positive." It is all in the eye of the beholder.


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