Drugs As Stimulus

Throughout life we are subjected to countless stimuli, and our responses to
those stimuli shape and affect our lives and those surrounding us. This example
of real life classical conditioning is one that took a negative affect on a
close friend of mine. My senior year in high school my friend formed a new group
of people he associated with. This was not a problem until drugs entered the
equation, and soon after he began to associate drug use with fun, and enjoyment
whereas before just hanging out with his new friends provided his fun and
enjoyment. This conditioning occurred because he was too ignorant to realize
that it was his friends and not the drugs that provided the good times. This
example is one of classical conditioning, because it involves the association of
two stimuli, drugs and friends, one of which had no previous effect one him (the
drugs). Eventually through classical conditioning drugs triggered a response of
enjoyment. This differs from operant conditioning because his behavior with the
associated stimulus (drugs) was not strengthened or diminished from
reinforcement or punishment. The critical elements in my example include: the
unconditioned stimulus, the conditioned stimulus, the unconditioned response,
and the conditioned response. The unconditioned stimulus is the group of friends
he hung out with. These friends of his naturally and automatically triggered a
response in him, and that response was enjoyment and happiness. The
unconditioned response was his reaction from his friends, and this reaction was
one of happiness and enjoyment. The conditioned stimulus was the drugs he
started using. He began to associate this stimulus, which was neutral when
introduced, with the enjoyment he had when with his friends. The conditioned
response was the same as the unconditioned response, happiness, and enjoyment.

However, the conditioned response was in response to the drugs and not his
friends. So, eventually in his mind drug use meant a good time, when in reality
it was slowly killing him. Using the example of my friend there are several ways
to change his response to his continued drug use. One such option would be to
distance my friend from his other friends, and then in time hopefully the use of
drugs would become extinct, because he wouldn’t associate drugs with enjoyment
and realize how bad they are. One problem with this is the possibility of
spontaneous recovery or relapse; this especially has a much greater chance with
a drug user because you have to factor in the addiction problem. Another
possibility to change his conditioning involves the concept of generalization.

Many associate drug use with risk taking, if he could find some risky yet
healthy behavior such as sky diving or mountain climbing, those new risks could
take the place of the drugs. This is a somewhat similar method as when hardcore
heroin addicts are placed on methadone to satisfy the cravings. However due to
discrimination he might find these new risks to dissimilar to the old and not
have the same controlled response of pleasure and enjoyment. A final possibility
that could work would be to introduce a new controlled stimulus in a structured
environment, such as therapy. This new stimulus could be anything from electric
shock applied when a craving for drugs occur or pictures or stories from drug
addicts that will leave a negative image in his head whenever he thinks of using
drugs. The idea behind this would be to replace the feelings of pleasure
associated with drug use to feelings of discomfort and disgust whenever he
thinks of drugs. Through one or perhaps all three techniques my friends drug use
will stop, I guess I will have to wait and find out.