Monday, 21 April 2014

The Biological Model of Addiction - Applied to Smoking

Initiation   Maintenance  Relapse

 - The biological model of smoking proposes that people will initially take up smoking due to genetics. Studies from Lerman et al have shown that people who inherit the SLC 63A-9 gene are less likely to take up smoking than those without it. This gene is responsible for controlling levels of dopamine in the brain.

 - According to the physical dependance theory, people can become addicted to smoking through developing a tolerance to nicotine. As a person begins to smoke they need to smoke more and more in order to maintain the pleasurable feeling it gives them. Stopping this activity therefore may well result in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, unpleasant side effects ranging from shaking and sweating to increased heart-rate and blood pressure. 
 Psychologists have found evidence showing how extremely addictive nicotine is. Schachter studied the effects of nicotine and found that smokers with low-nicotine cigarettes smoked more than smoked more than smokers with high-nicotine cigarettes. The higher content allowed smokers to reach the required level of nicotine with fewer cigarettes. This was referred to as the 'nicotine regulation model'. 

 Smoking nicotine activates of the 'pleasure centres'  in the brain which enhances the reward value of other stimuli, making the reward gained from things much better. Stimulation procedures from Harrison et al can be used to support this. Through training rats to self-administer a small electrical stimulation to the reward centre of the brain, whilst injecting some of them with nicotine, he found that rats with nicotine needed a lower electrical stimulation to have the same level of reward. When the nicotine exposure was stopped, withdrawal symptoms occurred and the self-stimulation increased. This of course supports that people will maintain their smoking addiction because it makes everything else seem a lot more enjoyable. 

 However this study comes with major limitations. Not only is it unethical due to the use of animals and their lack of protection from harm, but it is also ratomorphic. It is therefore difficult to extrapolate the findings in addiction from rats to that of humans, as we are said to have a far more complex brain structure and live in a more social and emotional world. Contrary, some psychologists, particularly from an evolutionary perspective, would argue that the same characteristics apply across species. 

(For those who might not know - Ratomorphism = anthropomorphism but strictly regarding the use of rats)

 There is also a genetic factor in the maintenance of smoking, as Sabol et al showed that the SLC 63A-9 was also extremely important in enhancing people's ability to stop smoking.

 - Relapse also refers to the physical dependance theory as previously mentioned regarding the maintenance of the addiction. Stopping smoking after developing a high tolerance to nicotine can result in high withdrawal symptoms, which can easily be avoided if the individual continues to smoke.
 In support of this, Lerman et al showed that smokers deprived of nicotine during withdrawal showed increased blood flow in certain parts of the brain. The findings also suggests that certain people are more prone to craving due to changes in brain chemistry. This research is useful in helping us understand what encourages a smoker to relapse and why some are more likely to relapse than others.  

 Overall the biological model of smoking appears to see the addiction as a disease, emphasising the idea that it is the fault of the individual alone and that regardless the treatment it is irreversible. This leads to the issue of it being a deterministic approach, in the sense that the cause is specifically pinpointed to a specific set of genetic factors, and if someone has these they will have the addiction, thus it does not scope for the individual's free will. Furthermore, the fact that it reduces the complex idea of addiction strictly down to genetics and brain chemistry leads to the issue of it being a reductionist approach to addictive behaviour.
 Nonetheless, there is much research and empirical evidence to support the proposals of the biological model of smoking, much which has been conducted in recent years, allowing for high temporal validity with findings that are applicable to modern-day society.

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