Essay: Psychology: Alcohol &amp Drug Abuse

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[. . .] " (Feldman, 2009). Adverse reactions to abusing heroin include depression, convulsions, coma, financial difficulties due to the cost of obtaining the drug, homelessness, high risk for AIDS/HIV, violence, suicide, and death (by overdose) (Feldman, 2009; Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010).

Analyzing Physiological Effects & Treatments

Addiction begins when a person feels a craving for a substance, which has activated the "pleasure center" of their brain, which are the dopamine reward pathways and endorphins located in the limbic system (Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010). In chronic abusers of substances like alcohol, heroin, or cocaine, these pleasure centers have been so artificially high, repeatedly, that according to Raymond Anton, the brain has been literally "hijacked" by the floods of dopamine, that when the user is not high the limbic system does not have normal responses to pleasurable things like food or sex anymore. Therefore, according to Anton, the drug is increasingly needed for users to feel any sense of well-being, and explains why users have an escalating feeling of depression when coming down from a high, and lends to the rising popularity of the theory that addiction is a brain-based disease. These pathways are so addicted to the drug that when a substance abuser just looks at pictures of alcohol or drugs, or the paraphernalia such as needles, or even pictures of the environment where they may use, these pathways are abnormally activated vs. participants who did not have a substance abuse problem (Anton, 2010).

Thankfully, because the idea that addiction is indeed a physiological disease of the brain that users suffer from for the rest of the lives even after being sober for many years there have been tremendous strides in using medication as treatment for addictions (Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010). According to Anton, there has been an increase in research for a cocaine vaccine, where clinical trials are being performed, and there have also been some new developments for other medication treatments for methamphetamines, opiates, and nicotine. Additionally, Colin Drummond, in his article solely concerning cravings, strongly recommends more research on the effects of using medications to treat alcoholism, as well as more investigations of the limbic systems neurotransmitters and their influence on cravings and addiction.

As it stands today there are many medications being used to help facilitate detoxification, and to help substance abusers of illegal drugs "maintain a state of remission." (Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010). A drug called Antabuse is a fairly common medication treatment for those wishing to abstain from alcohol, and its main function is to make the patient violently ill when they drink even the smallest amounts of alcohol (Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010). Of course, the only problem with this form of medication is that the patient can simply stop taking it if they want to drink again, however, they can take a different drug called Revia, which helps to block the reward pathways that alcohol would normally activate, thus dampening the affects of alcohol and curbing the rewarding aspects (Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010). Another drug for alcoholism called Campral, which has the highest success rate, is used for those seeking relief from withdrawal symptoms and is meant to be used in conjunction with psychological therapies like cognitive-behavioral, group therapy or inpatient rehabilitation (Oltmanns, & Emery, 2010).

An important drug that has been used to help treat heroin addiction is Methadone, which works to replace the psychological addiction to heroin with the Methadone, and help the user lead a normal life, which slowly weaning themselves off the Methadone altogether (Feldman, 2009). The only downside to this treatment is that it is possible for heroin addicts to become addicted to Methadone, because unfortunately is does not remove the biological addiction, so it is very important for this medicine to be used in a controlled environment like an inpatient resident center, under the care of an addiction specialist (Feldman, 2009).

Another form of medication treatment doesn't use a medicine to replace or block the drug, but uses the same drug to wean a user off, which, of course, is the nicotine patch or gum used by those who wish to give up smoking. The patch, or gum, is used in strong amounts a the beginning and starting out everyday a smoker will use the patch, but slowly start to use the lesser amounts and start to wear it less often. The idea is to start out with the normal amount of nicotine a person is used to and then gradually get them used to less and less, until (hopefully), the smoker no longer has such strong cravings, and can eventually go without smoking and work on their will-power.


This paper aimed to show the various theories, processes, effects, and physiological analyses of alcohol and drug dependency based on the idea that it is a disease of the brain. Major theories discussed included why people become addicted to substances like alcohol or drugs in the first place, which could be attributed to reward and reinforcement, or stress-reduction behaviors, also known as biologically-based or psychologically based addictions. The cognitive-behavioral theories of treatments was discussed at length, as well as how groups like Alcoholics-Anonymous help their group members recover from addictions. The processes and effects of how certain substances, both legal and illegal, manifest in the body, and what consequences produce within the user was discussed at length, and illustrated how biological and psychological addictions can occur. Lastly, the physiological aspects of addiction was analyzed to give a more clear representation of how drugs affect the human brain, and what medical treatments can be used to counteract these devastating consequences of substance abuse and addiction.

In closing, it is highly suggested for research psychologists to increase their efforts into developing more effective treatments featuring medication used in combination with outpatient therapies. More specifically, medication that helps to treat the more serious addictions of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.


Anton, R. "Substance abuse is a disease of the human brain: focus on alcohol." Journal of Law, Medicine &… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Psychology: Alcohol &amp Drug Abuse.  (2011, April 23).  Retrieved August 26, 2019, from

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"Psychology: Alcohol &amp Drug Abuse."  23 April 2011.  Web.  26 August 2019. <>.

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"Psychology: Alcohol &amp Drug Abuse."  April 23, 2011.  Accessed August 26, 2019.