Drug Tolerance and Classical Conditioning
In pharmacodynamics, tolerance is considered as getting a less response from a drug at the usual drug. That is, administering more of a drug to get the same effect as was desired and one that was being felt prior to the tolerance. On the other hand, resistance is when micro-organisms or cancer causing cells effectively fight against the adverse implications of a drug. Increasing the dosage of a pharmaceutical dosage re-amplifies the effects of the drug further leading to greater tolerance. Tolerance of a drug is a contributory factor of drug addiction (Paul, 2014). On the other hand, classical conditioning is where learning is used by organisms to predict the onset of an unconditioned stimulus (Sigel, 2001). It occurs when two stimuli are linked through pairing them severally. One of the stimuli which is a neutral stimulus becomes conditioned leading to the same reaction as the other stimulus. Due to the high prevalence of drug overdose and drug addiction, there has been evidence that links drug tolerance to classical conditioning. One of the most outstanding research was by Shepard Sigel, who was the first psychologist to suggest that classical conditioning plays a critical role in the development of tolerance to drugs (Sigel, 2001).
The link between drug tolerance and classical conditioning is that the latter has been established to drawing drug tolerance effects (SADIE, 2004). The idea behind this is that when any substance is administered severally in the same environmental cues then the signals start to perform as a conditioned stimuli leading to a body reaction that opposes the adverse outcomes of the administered substance. In this case, the substance acts as an unconditioned stimulus producing a conditioned response in form of the outcome of the drug. The environmental cues are the conditioned responses that generate the conditioned response which fight against the outcome of the substance. Ideally, when the conditioned stimulus is connected with the unconditioned stimulus it establishes a tolerance against the adverse outcomes of the drug as an attempt of the body to maintain its normal state. A research by Siegel argued that, ‘tolerance significantly rises when an individual is exposed to the usual drug-associated cues and not when the person is exposed to unfamiliar cues in a process called the situational-specificity of tolerance’ (Sigel, 2001).
One issue that has always been astonishing to medical practitioners is how a drug overdose can kill a rather experienced drug user. That is, the lethal dose that was used by a drug user is one that he or she had taken numerous times with no adverse results that can end up threatening one’s life. A research done by (Dark et.al. 2002) effectively showed this phenomenon. The research focused on heroin users who had been using morphine and had died and those who were still alive. The researchers concluded that the current heroin users had huge concentrations of morphine approximately four times more than the level of the diseased heroin users. Therefore, they stated that the amount of heroin used by the diseased victims was not substantial to be the sole cause of the demise of the victims. There is intense studies that have linked classical conditioning to the numerous deaths faced by drug users where the usual standard cues are missing.
Another illustration is by Siegel, (2001) who further strengthened the fact that classical conditioning plays a fundamental role that leads to increased drug tolerance. The study monitored a male victim who was constantly being administered a morphine dosage in his bedroom. As the tolerance increased so was the morphine dosage risen. One day the man administered the same morphine injection at similar intervals and dosage in his living room. However, his body began reacting to a morphine overdose and he later died as a result of the drug. Classical conditioning is relevant to this situation because it can be seen to cause the drug tolerance when the victim started to link the bedroom with the morphine injection. In this situation, the bedroom is the CS and together with the morphine injection there is a CR in the victim. The aftermath was simply a reaction of the body to fight against the effects of morphine producing an effect that can be considered as tolerance. Upon administering the drug in the living room rather than the bedroom which is the conditioned stimulus the conditioned response which is the drug tolerance was absent. As a result, the man did not counteract the effects of morphine and therefore died of a morphine overdose.
Through classical conditioning, how living things react to any changes in their environment can be adequately illustrated. Cues are frequently employed to predict the happening of an unconditioned stimulus. In substance abuse, ‘there is a form of conditioning that increases tolerance while decreasing the same tolerance when the conditioning is unavailable’ (Sigel, 2001). Normally, when classical conditioning occurs in drug use, the cues are necessary to result to the administration of a substance. The body gradually responds to the conditioned cues through altering its biological state and fighting against the adverse outcomes of the drug. The response can be referred to as tolerance, the process is fundamental in establishing how drug tolerance can be heightened by cues in classical conditioning (Sigel, 2001). Understanding classical conditioning and drug tolerance is paramount because it explains how experienced drug users finally die due to an overdose. The information is important because through it drug users can realize the importance of administering their drugs in the same environment that they are used to avoiding unintentional low tolerance levels that could lead to fatal deaths.
Paul , K. (2014, April 17). Drug Tolerance. Retrieved from http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/salmon/year3/psy337DrugTolerance/drugtolerance.htm
SADIE , D. (2004, March). Pavlovian psychopharmacology. 35(3), 18. Retrieved June 20, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar04/pavlovian.aspx
Sigel, S. (2001). Pavlovian Conditioning and Drug Abuse: When Tolerance Fails. Addiction Research and Theory, 9(5), 503-515. Retrieved June 20, 2016, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/16066350109141767#.V2e9lVm_XfY