Learning Model Of Addiction


The learning model of addiction actually comes in two flavors. The first says, in effect, that you learn to be an addict in the same way you might learn etiquette – what you learn will depend on the culture you are raised in and those you hang out with. The second meaning of learning model of addiction has to do with the chain of events set in motion after an addiction is established. For instance, go to the store --> buy booze --> meet up with friends --> get drunk --> avoid cops --> hide hangover at work the next day. This is a kind of pattern, or “recipe” we have to learn.

Evidence shows that there are really two things going on with the learning model of addiction and this separates the two meanings. In the first, it’s a social construct that is first external and then, when learned, it becomes internal. The second however, can be caused by the drug itself, so you might say it is internal first. For example, it is known that just thinking about the activities associated with cocaine use is enough to trigger a desire to use and start the chain of behavior. This second meaning won’t be addressed here because it is essentially biological and not social.

The two meanings of the learning model of addiction do share a similar solution: break the pattern and you can break the addiction.

The evidence for the learning model of addiction comes from studies showing patterns of addictive behavior.

  • * Addictions seem to vary by country. Forbidding children to drink while accepting adult drunkenness leads to a higher rate, while countries that teach responsible drinking for all ages have less alcoholism.
  • * Addiction seems to be more than the properties of the drug alone can explain.
  • * Drug and alcohol use, at least in the beginning, is usually a social activity.
  • * Not all addictions have physical withdrawal symptoms.

The contrast of the learning model of addiction with other models comes from the treatment that emerges from the learning model of addiction. Unlike the biological model, which says that “once an addict, always an addict,” what can be learned can be unlearned and addicts can be cured. It also predicts that addiction is not an all or nothing principle – someone could, for instance, lessen their use to more acceptable and less harmful levels.

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