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Drug Addiction - PSY00015H

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  • Department: Psychology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Gavin Phillips
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

In this course we'll be getting to grips with the full force of drug addiction and so will be taking an in-depth look at the causes of addiction from both psychological and biological perspectives, and the emotional consequences as experienced by real people. Theories of drug addiction and related therapies will be assessed in light of earlier work carried out during the module.


  • to raise awareness of the complex interplay between biological and psychological mechanisms that may determine much human behaviour.

  • to examine the evidence which suggests that a single neural pathway of the brain - the mesoaccumbens dopamine projection - may play a key role in addictive behaviour.

  • to make clear the distinction between primary and secondary reinforcement, and to evaluate the implications for data on the fundamental function of the mesoaccumbens dopamine for the possible nature of drug addiction.

  • to examine the phenomenon of drug craving, and establish the means by which it might influence people's behaviour, and to establish the extent to which drug craving might or might not be a crucial agent in drug relapse.

  • to highlight the ability of adverse events permanently to change the functioning of the mesoaccumbens dopamine projection in such a fashion as to increase vulnerability to drug addiction, and to evaluate the significance of these research findings for 'real life' experiences.

  • to develop an understanding of the issues facing any potential treatment for drug addiction, and to learn to critically evaluate various treatment options in the light of the fundamentals of addiction.

  • to evaluate current theories of drug addiction in the light of findings covered in previous seminars.

Module learning outcomes

  • Describe the basic evidence which suggests that dopamine is a key neurotransmitter of the brain mediating the rewarding properties of drugs of abuse.
  • Outline the evidence indicating that the 'natural' function of the mesoaccumbens dopamine projection to mediate the behavioural control exerted by secondary reinforcers.
  • Provide a commentary on the neurological bases of drug craving.
  • Explain how stressful experiences appear to sensitise permanently the mesoaccumbens dopamine projection, and outline the potential significance of sensitisation for drug addiction.
  • Outline and evaluate current theories of drug addiction.

Module content

  • Preliminary discussion with follow up video, and short lecture on brain reward systems.
  • Neural Bases of Reward: The main reward systems of the brain will be examined; primarily the mesoaccumbens dopamine projection.
  • Mesoaccumbens Dopamine: Primary vs. Secondary Reinforcement - The predominant role of mesoaccumbens dopamine in conditioned reinforcement will be examined,andrelevant implications.
  • Drug Craving: we'll examine the level of correspondence between brain dopamine activity and the subjective experience of craving.
  • Factors Affecting Abuse Potential - the roles of individual differences and early life experiences in affecting subsequent vulnerability to drug abuse will be explored.
  • Drug Therapy: we'll take a good evaluative look at the effectiveness of treatments for drug addiction, from cue exposure therapy to reconsolidation methods.
  • Overview of Theories of Drug Addition - competing theories of drug addiction will be evaluated, using evidence considered during the course.


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Drug Addiction
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Drug Addiction
N/A 100

Module feedback

The marks on all assessed work will be provided on e-vision.

These marks will be accompanied by module feedback forms which will be circulated by e-mail.

Students will meet supervisors in wk 6 in AuT, SpT and wk 9 in SuT to discuss their marks.

Indicative reading

Although there is no textbook for the course, relevant sections of the following book on learning and memory, reward and addiction are superb, and would provide suitable background information:

Carlson, NR. (2016). Physiology of Behaviour. 12th Edition. Allyn & Bacon, MA, USA.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.