Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Addiction, Behavior, Theory, Psychology, Learning, Drugs, Treatment, Sociology

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/12/11


Addiction is characterized by an overwhelming compulsion, drug craving, drug seeking and drug using behavior with detrimental effects. West (2006) refers to it as a reward seeking behavior that can produce undesirable and harmful effects to the individual addict. The theoretical perspectives about addiction often relate this maladaptive behavior as one that involves the person’s motivational system, cravings, impulses, perceived needs and caused by psychological and neurobiological problems (Hanson, Venturelli, and Fleckenstein, 2006). Theories of addiction focus on underpinning certain hypothesis that can explain the underlying cause of addiction and to identify the most appropriate approach to addiction treatment, management and prevention.
The social learning theory and classical conditioning theory provide some hypothesis explaining how addictive behavior occurs. The social learning theory of addiction focuses on the cognitive process and social influences that can produce the maladaptive behavior of addiction, while the classical conditioning focuses on the associative learning process of addiction. These theories of addiction will be explained with some emphasis on the theoretical evidences citing the similarities and differences in their approach in terms of their application in understanding addictive behaviors, success in formulating appropriate treatment methods to addiction and with respect to the recovery, episodes of relapse and maintenance of addiction.
There are some research evidences that can provide some insights that explain how the theories of addiction become helpful in understanding addictive behavior. Underpinning these evidences can provide clarity in terms of explaining how and why an addictive behavior occurs and to emphasize that not all addictions emanate from the same causes that produce the maladaptive addictive behavior.


Theories of addiction attempt in explaining the underlying causes of addiction, and to understand why an addictive behavior is unique and vary for different people. Taylor and Wilson (2005) emphasize that addiction is a complex behavior and treatment is more challenging when it is caused by different factors. The theoretical approach in hypothesizing the cause of addiction may take different directions, making it crucial to understand the many theories of addiction.
Introduced by Albert Bandura, there are four stages involved in the evolution of the social learning theory. Braithwaite and Baxter (2006) describe these four stages as follows: The first stage is called the modeling stage that involves the individual observation about the behaviors or others, either directly or indirectly. In the second stage, the observing individual retains the acquired or learned knowledge. The third stage involves reproducing the learned knowledge and lastly the fourth stage, the individual either accepts or rejects the model’s behavior as a guide in his own performance and behavior.
On the other hand, the classical conditioning emphasizes on the theory that addiction is a learned and conditioned behavior that involves various stages as described by Eysenck (2009). The first stage involves the before conditioning stage where the introduction of a conditioned stimulus produces no response, but introducing an unconditioned stimulus will produce an unconditioned response. The second stage is the during conditioning stage, where both the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli will produce an unconditioned response. The third and last stage is the after conditioning stage where a conditioned stimulus will elicit a conditioned response. The central assumption underlying these stages of classical conditioning is within the precept that associative learning takes place between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus when the conditioned stimulus can predict or become associated with the unconditioned stimulus.
The social learning theory, in particular, points out that an individual has the internal capacity to develop internal cognitive models of experience that can assist in his decision making process. Thus, an individual is viewed as someone with the capacity to rationally think, assess and reason out any situation, with the ability to weigh the potential outcomes. Within this perspective, learning by observation is an important aspect of social learning theory. The ability of the person to learn from his personal experiences and that of others is called modeling, which allows the person to learn more complex social behavior and cultural norms of behavior (McMurran, 1994), such as substance abuse and other forms of addictive behaviors.
The social learning theory develops the principle of addiction whereby an individual will repeat any behavior that will lead to rewards (West and Brown, 2013) and avoid those that produce a punishment. The positive event associated with drug use, for instance, is the subjective euphoric effect after taking a drug. The more intense the use of the drug is made, the more habitual the drug seeking behavior becomes. The negative consequential effects of drug taking, however, will lead an addict to aversion. Drug avoidance will depend upon the strength of the associated punishment and negative consequences attributed to it. Cardoso and Chronister (2009) concluded that addiction emanates from the lack of positive reinforcement of alternative behaviors and the lack of punishment with the addicting behaviors.
The classical conditioning theory postulates that certain behaviors can be learned and conditioned. Based on Pavlov’s theory on classical conditioning, the introduction of a specific stimulus can produce a known response. This is indicated in the studies he made in dogs where he applied an unconditioned stimulus in order to produce an involuntary response. He then applied a neural stimulus in order to produce a conditioned response that is learned (Pavlov, 2003). With the use of a stimulus, an individual can manifest conditioned response because of the reward associated with it, causing one to form a specific type of a behavior that may operate outside of one’s conscious control (Clarke, 2006). This induces a habit forming behavior that eventually becomes one’s motivation force to engage in a certain activity despite the adverse consequences as seen in addiction. Addictive drugs taps the brain’s reward system, thereby providing a positive reinforcement of addictive behavior despite its harmful effects to the body.
Nee (2013) hypothesizes that drug abuse can lead to the destruction of the normal circuitry responsible for recognizing normal reward process controlled by the neurotransmitter dopamine. As the dopamine level in the brain is reduced by the chemicals present in drugs, an addict finds the need for more pleasurable experiences leading to the abusive use of drugs. A research study conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (1999) showed how stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can exert influence to its user’s behavior, feelings, and emotions. These two substances work as a neurological reinforcement that lead to drug dependency. The classical conditioning also explains the withdrawal response in addiction as evidenced by the research study conducted by Wikler and Prescon (1967) on rats. Morphine was administered to rats for six weeks and when the morphine administration was arrested, the rats showed withdrawal symptoms of shaking episodes. Although the rats were able to demonstrate morphine abstinence, the risk for a relapse is still present. The test concluded that despite morphine abstinence, the risk for a relapse remains owing to the persistent long term unconditioned disturbances occurring following the morphine withdrawal. This serves as a reinforcement to the behavior of addiction.
Both the classical conditioning and social learning share their own distinct roles in the relapse prevention in addiction. The social learning theory uses the Relapse Prevention Model in focusing on the maintenance of abstinence from drug seeking and drug using behavior (Marlatt and Donovan, 2005). It applies Albert Bandura’s theories of self efficacy involving the cognitive-social learning model to prevent relapse in addiction. The focus of treatment in addiction using the social learning theory is putting emphasis on the learning principle and skill development that prevent relapse, such as learning new positive skills and unlearning addictive behavior and habits. According to Bandura (1999), addicts should learn how to avoid situations that can trigger a relapse, and to learn strategies to deal with certain situations more effectively through the self regulation process and recovery from setbacks. The theory of self efficacy is also used in the assessment of treatment outcomes in addiction. The use of the Relapse Prevention Model also has a significant application of treatment policies in addiction. It helps what potential skills that addicts should learn in order to cope with their conditions and mitigate the potential setbacks of changing the addictive behavior. The Relapse Prevention Model is now considered to be the standard module in all psychosocial interventions for substance abuse and self help manuals in coping with addiction (Hendershot, Witkiewitz, George and Marlatt, 2011).
The classical conditioning theory utilizes discriminatory cues that will promote the disappearance of cravings. A positive cue exposure can encourage the furtherance of a drug seeking behavior in addiction (McCrady and Epstein, 2013) as this occurs when the negative reinforcement is weak enough and positive reinforcement is stronger. This encourages the risk for a relapse with the addict having a higher tendency to manifest drugs seeking and drug using behavior. According to Levin, Culkin and Perrotto (2001), the classical conditioning model puts emphasis on association in the development of addictive behavior and the relapse phase of the condition. The same authors also provide that the classical conditioning theory also applies the model of efficacy whereby the addict’s resistive efficacy can help prevent cravings and episodes of relapse, recovery efficacy as one’s ability to maintain abstinence, and interpersonal efficacy which refers to the individual’s ability to interact with other and manage interpersonal issues.
Association by learning is one of the strongest theoretical principles in classical conditioning, and it is widely used in the treatment of addictive behavior, especially in alcohol abuse and smoking addiction (Christensen, Martin and Smyth, 2004). The treatment involved is the aversion therapy that emanates from the classical conditioning principle involving association. A classic example of its application is the administration of a drug that will result in adverse side effects when drinking alcohol, such as producing the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. This will result in aversion behavior with drinking alcohol being associated with the side effects of the unpleasant symptoms of nausea and vomiting that later on discourage subsequent alcohol drinking. This strategy is the negative reinforcement application that helps promote an aversion to cravings. The classical conditioning also explains the development of addicting behavior through association using positive reinforcement and its role in encouraging relapse. Thus, an individual who is already recovering from addiction is at risk of having a relapse after seeing a syringe which positively reinforces its association to his addictive behavior and associating with it the conditioned feeling of being high or euphoria (Prus, 2014).
Classical conditioning is widely used in the theoretical research involving the development of treatment for addiction. Just like the social learning theory, it has also been widely used for exploring the potential development of treatments and patient recovery from addiction. The theory help assists doctors and clinicians in understanding cravings, tolerance and withdrawal in drug addiction (Rasmussen, 2000). The hypothesis involving reinforcement can help provide potential treatment that can promote efficient coping skills and aversion from addictive behavior, which is viewed as a learned process. Classical conditioning is the foundation in the development of various forms of addiction treatment, such as cue exposure therapy and aversion therapy that focuses on associating an unwanted behavior to an unpleasant experience.
The social learning theory and classical conditioning theory focus on different principles involved in addictive behavior. Entrenched in the theory of classical conditioning in addictive behavior is that the learning process and development of the maladaptive behavior depends upon the strength of the reinforcing stimuli. On the other hand, entrenched in the social learning theory of addiction is that the addictive behavior is the instrumental learning principle consisting of the effects of reward and punishment that influence behavior. While both attempt to describe addiction and explaining its potential causes, there are certain limitations between the two theories of addiction. Hughes (2006) points out that the social learning theory overly rely on the role of cognition in developing addictive behavior. It does not account to addiction as a brain disease with resulting impairment to the normal neurological pathways that control cravings. It merely relies on the basis of reward and punishment mechanism that influences the development of addiction. Moreover, it can be critically noted that not all observed behaviors can be learned. Social learning theory also fails to explain the impulse of aggressiveness in addiction.
Classical conditioning, on the other hand, has the strength of relating its principles to practical situations, making it a more effective in describing theoretical underpinnings about the acquisition of addictive behavior. It has been considered as an effective theoretical foundation in the development of treatment and recovery from addiction, especially in the use of cue exposure therapy and aversion therapy. Conklin and Tiffany (2002), however, describe that the animal learning literature in classical conditioning is rarely used in the further development of cue exposure addiction treatment. The researchers believe that there is a potential finding on improving the development of cue exposure therapy in addiction if further studies will include the animal training literature that can help maximize the potential of extinction training in addiction. It is worth noting, however, that the classical conditioning has become the foundation of many addiction therapies used today and are known for their efficacy and effectiveness in addressing addictive behaviors.


The theories of addiction are a useful tool in understanding how addiction occurs and why maladaptive addiction behavior takes place. Underpinning the theoretical perspectives of addiction can help define a better approach to addiction treatment and the implementation of a more viable recovery program that can discourage addiction relapse and how to maintain a long term healthy disposition away from addictive behaviors (Essau, 2008). Classical conditioning is conclusively more effective in terms of treatment developments for addiction because of its contribution in the introduction of various forms of addiction treatment, such as the cue exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and aversion therapy as among many other emerging addiction treatments (Galanter and Kleber, 2008). While the social learning theory does account for the development of addictive behavior, it is mainly focused on the application of instrumental learning involving the reward and punishment system affecting motivation. It is not comprehensive enough to cover the unconscious aspect of learning the addictive behavior that is covered by the theory of classical conditioning.
The classical conditioning theory of addiction accounts more broadly the influencing factors involved in addictive behavior through stimulus response patterns, while the extent of coverage involved in social learning theory primarily focuses on the social element of learning by observation of other’s behavior and the application of the motivation process of reward and punishment. Notable is the application of Bandura’s theoretical perspective of self efficacy that is important in addiction recovery using both theories of addiction. The theories of classical conditioning and social learning have been recognized, however, for its contribution in the development of further studies in understanding addiction better and in defining a more appropriate approach to addiction treatment.


Bandura, A. (1999). A Sociocognitive Analysis of Substance Abuse: An Agentic Perspective. Psychological Science.10(3):214-217.
Braithwaite, D.O. and Baxter, L.A. (2006). Engaging in Theories of Family Communication: Multiple Perspectives. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Cardoso, E. and Chronister, J.A. (2009). Understanding Psychosocial Adjustment to Chronic Illness and Disability. New York: Springer Pubblishing.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (1999). Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorder. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Christensen, A.J., Martin, R. and Smyth, J.M. (2004). Encyclopedia of Health Psychology. New York: Kluwer Academic Publisher.
Clarke, D. (2006). Conditioning Models of Addiction. Drink and Drug News. 9:15-21.
Conklin, C.A. and Tiffany, S.T. (2002). Applying Extinction Research and Theory on Cue Exposure Addiction Treatment. Addiction. 97(2):155-167.
Essau, C.A. (2008). Adolescent Addiction: Epidemiology, Assessment and Treatment. San Diego, California: Acedmic Press.
Eysenck, M. (2009). Fundamentals of Psychology. New York: Psychology Press.
Galanter, M. and Kleber, H.D. (2008). The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment. Arlington, VA: Americal Psychiatric Publishing.
Hanson, G.R., Venturelli, P.J. and Fleckenstein, A. E. (2006). Drugs and Society. New York: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
Hendershot, C.S., Witkiewitz, K., George, W.H., and Marlatt, G.A. (2011). Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors. Substance Abuse Treatment. 6:17.
Hughes, R. (2006). Drugs: Policy and Politics. Poland: OZ Graft.
Levin, J.D., Culkin, J. and Perrotto, R.S. (2001). Northvale, New Jersey: Book-Mart Press.
Marlatt, G.A. and Donovan, D.M. (2005). Relapse Prevention: Maintenance Strategies In The Treatment of Addictive Behaviors. New York: Guilford Press.
McCrady, B.S. and Epstein, E.E. (2013). Addiction: A ComprehensiveGuidebook. New York: Oxford University Press.
McMurran, M. (1994). The Psychology of Addiction. London: Taylor & Francis.
Nee, P.W. (2013). The Key Facts On Drug Abuse: Everything You Need to Know About Drug Abuse. Boston, MA: The Medical Center.
Pavlov, I. P. (2003). Conditioned Reflexes. New York: Dover Publications.
Prus, A. (2014). An Introduction to Drugs and the Neuroscience of Behavior. Belmont, California: Cengage Learning.
Rasmussen, S. (2000). Addiction Treatment: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publication.
Taylor, J. and Wilson, G.S. (2005). Applying Sports Psychology: Four Perspectives. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
West, R. (2006). Theory of Addiction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
West, R. and Brown, J. (2013). Theory of Addiction. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.
Wikler, A. and Prescon, F.T. (1967). Classical Conditioning of a Morphine Abstinence Phenomenon, Reinforcement of Opiod Drinking Behavior And Relapse In Morphine Addicted Rats. Psychopharmacologia. 10(3):255-284.

Cite this page
Choose cite format:
  • APA
  • MLA
  • Harvard
  • Vancouver
  • Chicago
  • ASA
  • IEEE
  • AMA
WePapers. (2020, December, 11) Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
"Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example." WePapers, 11 Dec. 2020, Accessed 27 June 2022.
WePapers. 2020. Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example., viewed June 27 2022, <>
WePapers. Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example. [Internet]. December 2020. [Accessed June 27, 2022]. Available from:
"Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example." WePapers, Dec 11, 2020. Accessed June 27, 2022.
WePapers. 2020. "Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example." Free Essay Examples - Retrieved June 27, 2022. (
"Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example," Free Essay Examples -, 11-Dec-2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 27-Jun-2022].
Free Using Research Evidence, Compare And Contrast Two Theories Of Addiction Essay Example. Free Essay Examples - Published Dec 11, 2020. Accessed June 27, 2022.

Share with friends using:

Please remember that this paper is open-access and other students can use it too.

If you need an original paper created exclusively for you, hire one of our brilliant writers!

Related Premium Essays
Contact us
Chat now