Addiction: Biology, Psychology, and Society

An Emerging Model

Dr. Shree Dhawale, Associate Professor, Biology, Honors Program Director; Dr. Jeannie DiClimenti, Assistant Professor, Psychology; Dr. Ahmed Mustafa, Assistant Professor, Biology, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW), Fort Wayne, IN 46805


Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a social, economic, and health problem that affects people in every age group and income bracket. This course teaches principles of biology and chemistry through four of the most commonly used addictive substances: alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and psychostimulants (such as cocaine and methamphetamine). The basic science covered includes the biology of the brain and nervous systems, metabolism, genes, toxicity, the chemistry of enzymes and alcohols, and the biochemistry behind intoxication, tolerance, and addiction.

While learning the science behind addiction students explore the social, political, economic, and psychological problems that are associated with specific forms of addiction. Questions addressed include the moral vs. the medical understanding of addiction and their impact on public policy, the ethics of using genetic or neurological screening for pre-dispositions to addiction, the relationship between alcohol abuse and other social ills, such as domestic violence, high-risk behavior, fetal alcohol syndrome and suicide, the validity of medical marijuana use, and the legitimacy of using nicotine as a memory enhancer.

In addition to mid-term and final exams, students integrate their learning by working in pairs to produce a literature review on a topic of their own choosing. They must use peer-reviewed articles in three disciplines-biology, psychology, and nutritional chemistry, for this project. All students present their work orally to the class at the end of the semester. Additionally, 10% of the course grade derives from a service learning component where students use their research to develop educational programming for the campus community.

Learning Goals

Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a serious global problem that has major impact on Society. In American society, the socioeconomic impact is huge, and despite the availability of many social services, addiction is increasing at alarming rates. The problem is not limited to any age group or ethnic background. Using addiction to four compounds that have different modes of action and are among the most commonly abused substances, the course will provide introduction to understanding the biological, psychological, and psychosocial functioning of the human system. We will present conceptual understanding of the mechanisms of action upon body and mind and how addiction affects individuals, communities and society. We will not only use evidence-based principles, we will also teach how such knowledge is acquired, focusing on scientific methodology and critical thinking. Collaborative learning and service learning will also be utilized.

Course Objectives:

  1. Teach scientific methods to non-science majors
  2. Increase science literacy and critical thinking
  3. Improve science related attitudes in non-science majors
  4. Teach the application of scientific knowledge to social problems
  5. Increase student involvement in civic engagement
  6. Increase students' ability to engage in increasingly complex tasks during the course

Course Goals:

  1. To learn basic biological and biochemical processes in the context of human body
  2. To explain the basics of, learning theory, sensation and perception, neurological and neuropsychological functioning
  3. To describe and explain the structures and functions of the brain, involvement of genes, the effect of nutrition and the role of environment in the development of addiction
  4. To explain the scientific method as applied in each of the sciences
  5. To apply knowledge of psychological and biological processes to social problems.
  6. To connect knowledge and skills with civic engagement

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