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With reference to recent research, discuss the ways in which drugs affect human behaviour

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PSCY 1223 - Learning & Biological Psychology: With reference to recent research, discuss the ways in which drugs affect human behaviour. Behaviour is psychologically defined as "the aggregate of the responses or reactions or movements made by an organism in any situation." According to behavioural psychologists, our behaviour solely consists of stimulus - response (S-R) mechanisms which basically means that when presented with a stimulus, it is human nature to respond to it. For example, if we touch a hot plate accidentally (the stimulus) we quickly move our hand away (the response). Another stimulus that affects our behaviour is drugs. When a chemical stimulus acts at a specific area of the Central Nervous System (CNS), it produces a specific response. The responses produced vary between individuals and manage to affect behaviour. All human behaviour and emotions are controlled by neurotransmitters that act as keys between neurons. The amount of each neurotransmitter in the brain is precisely controlled by numerous feedback mechanisms, in a similar way to how a thermostat maintains a certain temperature in a room. Drugs are substances that disturb this delicate balance, because they have "passkeys" that let them open certain "locks" located between the neurons. The brain automatically adjusts to these substances from outside the body by producing fewer of its own natural "keys". It thereby achieves a new state of equilibrium that is maintained until the body starts to miss the external substance. ...read more.


Smoking also has positive effects on mood as the smoker uses nicotine to control their response to stress. The release of epinephrine arouses the sympathetic system yet most smokers report that they smoke because it relaxes them. Despite this, a survey carried out in the UK by West (1993) found that smokers have lower levels of psychological well-being than non smokers and ex-smokers. Another commonly used drug is alcohol. Alcohol has a depressant effect on the central nervous system, (including the brain and the nerves that control muscle action). When alcohol first enters the body, people experience an initial sense of well-being and relaxation. The impairing effects of alcohol are realised when the user is unable concentrate on complicated tasks demanding quick choices and accurate responses. After a few drinks, the rate at which information is processed slows down. The ability to concentrate on a task or to divide attention between tasks decreases. Brain functions are reduced and after too many drinks, judgment, emotions and also behaviour are affected. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the effects. Problems with muscular coordination will arise, slurring of words, losing balance and generally having slower reaction times are all typical examples of drunken behaviour. Emotional outbursts might express strong feelings of sadness or hostility. Aggressive behaviour can become a problem because when a person is drunk; their inhibitions are lowered and feel much more free to express their true opinions. ...read more.


Cocaine and other such "street drugs" like LSD, ecstasy and heroin do not have any potential benefits as far as their effect on human behaviour is concerned. They are simply a waste of time and money in that sense. However, Koller (1942) recognized that the tissue-numbing properties of cocaine needn't be an unwanted side-effect of its use when he demonstrated the drug's potential as a local anesthetic in eye operations. Due to the eyes involuntary muscle responses, the eye was one part of the body that proved incredibly difficult to operate on. It was found that a few drops of cocaine on to the eye relaxed the muscles, making it easier to operate upon. Research has provided the facts needed to understand drugs and their positive and negative effects upon behaviour. Whilst some drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are used regularly by people, it in no way means they are always safe to use. Each intake of these drugs leads to some sort of problem - for every cigarette smoked, a life is shortened by 11 minutes and for each unit of alcohol consumed, brain cells get damaged. "Harder" drugs like cocaine should be avoided as they produce negative effects upon behaviour such as hallucinations, even in small doses. Reviewing the above information, I conclude that although some drugs have benefits on behaviour, these are greatly outweighed by the negative effects. If drugs cannot be avoided, they should at least be taken in moderation. ...read more.

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