The social environment. The conditioned response to drinking

The vignette of ‘John, the cigarette smoker’ conveys three associative learning phenomena. Although not limited to the three, the phenomena identified are classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, instrumental (operant) conditioning and conditioned withdrawal. The phenomena are epitomised in the text by critical behavioural characteristics which underpin his substance addiction. Associative learning is defined as when a ‘behavioural action is elicited in response to a conditioned stimulus’ (Balsam, 2010). The World Health Organisation (1969) defines addiction as a ‘compulsion to take a drug on a periodic or continuous basis’. Whilst, Heather (1998) expresses it as ‘despite awareness of  consequential harm, involves the repeated use of drugs.’. The relationship between ingestion of drugs and the body’s neurological response and conditioning to the drugs is further exacerbated by tolerance and withdrawal. This is exemplified by John’s behavioural responses to his conditioned context. The three associative learning phenomena highlighted will be explored to demonstrate John’s smoking habits and his clear addiction to tobacco. Furthermore, the associative phenomena shall show how they lead to a pattern of relapse and inability to abstain from smoking.Classical conditioning is exemplified through the vignette of ‘John, the cigarette smoker’. The idea that John has been classically conditioned is identified through the four primary constituents; unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus and conditioned response. In the vignette, John ‘shares a cigarette with friends’ and ‘enjoys the pleasant feeling of smoking tobacco’ are the unconditioned stimuli and unconditioned responses, respectively. This is simply highlights John casually smoking with friends and enjoys the unconditioned feel of tobacco’.  John recalls ‘how many more cigarettes he would consume, when he was drinking alcohol’. In this case, the conditioned stimulus is the alcohol and his friends, as he has associated smoking cigarettes with drinking alcohol in a social environment. The conditioned response to drinking alcohol in a social context, is to smoke. Classical conditioning is a theory discovered by I.P Pavlov that may be defined as ‘changes in response or attitude to stimuli resulting from their contingent occurrence with other more potent stimuli’. Ivan Pavlov initially demonstrated the phenomenon of classical conditioning when he conducted experiments on dogs. Pavlov showed some dogs some food and rang a bell. The dogs developed an association of getting fed with the sound of the bell. Then over time, by just ringing the bell the dogs salivated, their response to the learned association of being fed with the sound of the bellinvolves the ‘pairings of an unconditioned stimulus and a neutral stimulus evoking an unconditioned response’, Instrumental conditioning is manifested in the vignette of ‘John, the cigarette smoker’ through his behavioural characteristics. This is evident through the positive reinforcement of ‘enjoying the pleasant feeling of smoking tobacco’, an outcome which will strengthen the behaviours undertaken to achieve the rewarding feelings he describes when smoking. The negative reinforcement of ‘feeling agitated and uncomfortable’ when John ‘goes without a cigarette’ dissuades John to avoid smoking, and rather to relapse because he has associated positive outcomes of ‘pleasant feelings’ with smoking cigarettes.The bond of pleasant feelings John associates with smoking is strengthened and the agitation and uncomfortable bond is weakened in order to get John to obtain the reward he associates with smokingConditioned withdrawal is manifested in the vignette through John’s behavioural characteristics in the environment. It is argued that social context of John in the context of ‘he’s out having a beer with his mates at the pub’ is the environmental cue behind a possible emergence of relapse. John says he finds it ‘particularly hard ….  feels greater unease, and stronger cravings when he is in these situations’ at the ‘pub’ which reinforces the idea that he may fall into a state of  relapse from smoking when in this environment with friends. It is argued that this may be due to his association of symptoms of ‘being uncomfortable and agitated’ when in this social setting where he attempts to abstain from smoking.