Classical conditioning and the initiation of addictive behaviour
Stimuli that occur just before, or at the same time, as a learned stimulus (e.g. a drug) may become secondary reinforcers by association. An example of this is learning that the sights and sounds of a pub are associated with alcohol – the sights and sounds then produce the same physiological effects as alcohol.
Operant conditioning and the initiation of addictive behaviour
If a behaviour is rewarded (positive reinforcement) it is likely to be repeated. Positive reinforcers cause dopamine release in the mesolimbic dopamine system. The system is designed for natural reinforcers such as food, drink, keeping warm, and sex, however addictive drugs can produce the same effect. Drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine and alcohol cause massive over-stimulation of dopamine receptors and are therefore positively rewarded. Gambling leads to a rush of adrenaline when experiencing a win or near-win, is socially rewarding through praise from peers, and financially rewarding after a win (Griffiths, 2009).
Operant conditioning and the maintenance/relapse of addictive behaviour
Repeated use of drugs leads to withdrawal symptoms when stopping. Withdrawal is physically unpleasant and can be reduced by taking the drug again (negative reinforcement).