In its alternative name ‘Pavlovian Conditioning’, his studies

In studying classical conditioning, it is evidenced
that behavioural processes and reinforcement responsible for drawing
connections between addictive behaviour, psychological and environmental cues
within one’s context plays a key role in developing dependent patterns of
addiction. Most famously investigated by Ivan Pavlov, hence its alternative
name ‘Pavlovian Conditioning’, his studies uncover the “adjustments organisms
make in response to observing the temporal relations among environmental or
proprioceptive stimuli” (Gottlieb, 2011). Originally an accidental discovery, Pavlov
observed the appetitive procedure involving an unconditioned stimulus eliciting
a response from organisms. Although it was observed in the form of a dog’s
automatic response to food, the “adjustments” made by the dog is equivalent to
John’s liking of the drug effect which is the “pleasant feeling of smoking”. Hence
the “temporal relation” established between the unconditioned stimulus as it
causes the unconditioned response, John’s desire to initiate drug use following
an involuntary reflex. Moreover, the conditioned relationship between cigarette
smoking and other drug related cues such as “social smoking”, “sharing with friends”,
a drink at the bar, and the ending of a meal is an order of events well known and
carried out by smokers that can be classified as the conditioned stimulus (Orleans
& Slade, 1993). This is a clear cascade of physiological reflexes that
exemplify how a behaviour – which in the case of John is smoking cigarettes;
can become closely associated with already existing cues that trigger reflexes
of anticipation (Galizio & Maisto, 1985). As John’s smoking behaviour becomes
increasingly paired with a range of occasions from social events and situations
where he consumes alcohol, it becomes very much established throughout his
lifestyle. Thus, it can be classified as an addiction that will cause John to
identify more events and locations that can be transformed into opportunities
for the “pleasant feeling” and “enjoyment” to occur.

Additionally, John’s learning can also be
classified as operant conditioning due to process in which reward and
punishment vary in relation to the likelihood of the individual repeating the
same action in future (Skinner, 1952). These consequences, such as positive reinforcers
are responsible for the frequency of behaviours whereas negative reinforcements
decrease the frequency (McSweeney & Murphy, 2014). Furthermore, operant conditioning
also encompasses punishment which is ideally avoided by decreasing the probability
of performing an action. Within the passage, John’s experiences of “agitation”
and “discomfort” due to a period of abstaining are crucial cues that cause
voluntary instrumental behaviours directing him to further approach cigarettes
through purchasing, ordering alcohol or “sharing” with friends. Hence, the
culmination of these “symptoms” John experiences can only be fulfilled through
voluntary instrumental behaviour that will ultimately lead him towards the
unconditioned stimulus that is “relief”. 
Similar studies by Skinner in 1932 examined the pace in which rats
learned to perform free operant procedures through learning to press a lever
presented to them that presents a desirable food pellet as the outcome. Having then
trained the rats to press the lever, Bolles et al. trained rats to both press
and push levers upwards to deliver food pellets. He then scheduled the food to
be released occasionally for presses and for pushes at other times. Over time, rats
learned to adapt to the adjustment and dispersed their presses and pushes. With
the addition of punishment in the form of shock applied to either the push or
press, the former was performed at significantly lower rates by the rat. These variables
made to the experiment allowed Bolles et al. (1980) to successfully demonstrate
that actions were sensitive to their instrumental relationship with the outcome.
Where Skinner’s (1932) original study observed the growing possibility between
action and outcome in pressing the lever as an example of positive reinforcement,
by contrast, Bolles et al. (1980) procedure for punishment exemplified how negative
relations between action and outcome could eliminate events that would have
otherwise occurred (Dickinson, 2012). Much like John, when such a relation
increases the probability of the action, this further highlights the role of positive
reinforcement. Furthermore, John’s relationship with nicotine reveals how
negative reinforcement applies to drug use despite being perceived as a reward
in the early due to the “pleasant feeling” they impart, the rewards of perhaps
friendship and social engagement. But later having “quit smoking” highlights withdrawal
symptoms due to “greater unease and stronger cravings”. Through these
experiences, John may continue to take cigarettes to avoid these unpleasant symptoms
and although the positive reinforcement may have receded, tolerance indicates
that the drug would be needed to achieve a high, it may be hard to deliver. This
confirms that John’s drug use is because of negative reinforcement as he avoids
the unpleasant cravings he experiences in these social occasions.

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Moreover, John’s behaviour can be used to
reveal how processes of Pavlovian Learning may relate to those of instrumental learning.
Not only do Pavlovian conditioned stimuli elicit unconditioned responses but
they also elicit voluntary instrumental responses that focus on a shared conditioned
stimulus. In the first phase of Pavlovian training we may observe a rat
learning that a conditioned stimulus such as a sound may predict the presence
of an unconditioned response such as food. Additionally, in a second phase, instrumental
training will see that the rat is able to learn that lever pressing is also
able to produce food. Once these types of learning have been established, there
is a critical transfer stage referred to as the Pavlovian Instrumental transfer
where the instrumental lever pressing response is performed but only to present
the Pavlovian conditioned stimulus periodically. The rate of lever pressing
then increases when the conditioned sound response is presented if the Pavlovian
association can successfully motivate further instrumental behaviour (Domjan,
2014). In the case of John where both the drug and atmosphere are relevant to
the state of unease and craving, the atmosphere can be more effective as the drug
cue, specifically an atmosphere with the alcohol consumption can be responsible
for retrieving an expectation of the drug effect thus setting up a platform for
voluntary instrumental behaviour (Mackintosh, 2013).  

Using these ideas of learning, we can
understand how John’s withdrawal continues to contribute to the maintenance of
his substance addiction to nicotine. Previously John’s drug use was maintained through
recreational use and being a “social smoker” due to the rewarding properties of
the drug which can be classified as positive reinforcement. It is also important
to remember that drug addiction is only rewarding when it provides an
individual pleasure. Without pleasure from the substance, it is unlikely that the
individual will become addicted. In trying to “quit” and “abstain” from
smoking, John’s addiction is further driven by the manifestation of the
withdrawal syndrome where learning to take the drug to undo his cravings will
be seen as negative reinforcement. Those addicted like John undergo withdrawal
in an environment such as “beer with mates”. This kind of environment is the
conditioned stimulus that elicits a conditioned withdrawal state when
encountered again in the future. This commonly motivates relapse due to his
drug use via negative reinforcement (Wikler, 1973) while neurochemical changes occurring
within the brain’s reward and stress pathway encourages the negative motivation
state behind addiction (Koob, 2006). Furthermore, this drug taking promotion follows
the shift from goal-directed actions of socialisation towards more habitual
ones where John must rely on cigarettes every few hours of a day (Ehlers &
Todd, 2017).

Ultimately, we realise that addiction is a
formulation of habits that are positively or negatively reinforced through our surrounding
environment, thoughts and experiences. Not only individually, but all learning phenomena’s
may be experienced in various combinations that effectively demonstrate their
responsibility in influencing patterns of relapse despite attempts in
abstaining from substance use and addiction. 


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