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The Neurobiology of Addiction

Learn how to better help your patients with a substance use disorder by understanding how addiction affects the brain.

A black and white scan of a human brain.
  • Duration

    2 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours
  • 100% online

    How it works
  • Included in an ExpertTrack

    Course 2 of 3
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Discover how neurobiology relates to a substance use disorder

This two-week course provides an overview of neurobiological adaptations that occur during active addiction to help you better understand your patients, and improve your quality of care.

You’ll gain knowledge of the neurobiology of biopsychosocial disorders as well as the major genetic contributors to addiction.

With this knowledge, you’ll examine how the dysfunction in these neurobiological circuits can ultimately result in an individual’s pursuit of reward or relief by substance use and other behaviours.

Examine the biopsychosocial model of addiction

You’ll delve into the causes of substance use disorders including environmental factors and childhood traumatic events.

This will help you discuss the biopsychosocial model of addiction and its implications for the prevention and treatment of addiction disease.

Explore addiction treatment with industry experts

By the end of the course, you’ll be able to explain how understanding addiction as a chronic disease positively impacts the survival and recovery of people with addiction.

Learning from the experts at The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), you’ll also be able to identify the primary medications used in addiction treatment and their effect on the brain’s circuits and homeostasis.

With this knowledge, you’ll have a better understanding of your patients with substance use disorders and know how to improve the quality of treatment you provide.


  • Week 1

    The Neuroscience of Addiction

    • Course Introduction

      You will begin by examining the neurobiology of substance use disorders, learn how it affects a person suffering from an addiction, and explore environmental factors that contribute to addiction.

    • The Pleasure Pathway

      In this section, you will explore how many activities such as food, water, sex, exercise, and relationships activate the brain's reward circuit, the pleasure pathway. Most of these activities involve the neurotransmitter dopamine.

    • Positive and Negative Reinforcement

      In this section, you will view the progression of substance use disorder through the positive and negative reinforcement cycle of addiction. Taking substances in greater frequencies and quantities leads from euphoria to dysphoria.

    • Impaired Executive Function in Addiction

      In this section, you will explore how chronic substance use causes impairment in signaling by neurotransmitters, which impacts decision-making.

    • Brain Adaptation: Tolerance and Withdrawal

      In this section, you will examine the balance of neuron excitement and inhibition in the normal brain and contrast that with brain adaptation (or tolerance) and unopposed brain excitation (or withdrawal).

    • Key Takeaways

      Faculty review topics from the neuroscience of addiction course including the pleasure/reward pathway, positive and negative reinforcement, impaired executive function in addiction, and tolerance and withdrawal.

  • Week 2

    Environmental Factors in Addiction and Social Supports in Recovery

    • Week Introduction

      This week, you will examine environmental and social factors that can play a role in the development of addiction and relapse, but also how they play a role in supporting sustainable recovery.

    • Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs)

      In this section, you will examine how traumatic events in childhood can predispose individuals to addiction.

    • Social and Environmental Factors in Addiction: What Animal Studies Reveal

      In this section, you will explore the Lessons of Rat Park and the role of social standing in the development of addiction.

    • Environmental Cues as Risk Factors

      In this section, you will explore how triggering (Pavlovian conditioning) develops and how it can cause a return to use in an individual recovering from a substance use disorder.

    • Return to Use and Recovery

      In this section, you will explore strategies and approaches to prevent patients from returning to use and support their recovery.

    • Key Takeaways

      Faculty review topics from week 2 of the neuroscience of addiction course including social and environmental factors in addiction such as social isolation, social standing or placement, and the mitigating role of social supports.

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Discuss the biopsychosocial model of addiction and its implications for the prevention and treatment of the disease of addiction.
  • Explain what occurs in the brain of a person with addiction in terms of the brain’s neurobiology.
  • Explain how the understanding of addiction as a chronic, treatable disease impacts the survival and recovery of people with addiction.
  • Describe how traumatic events in childhood may predispose people to develop addiction.
  • Explore the roles social and environmental factors play in addiction.
  • Explore triggering and causes of relapse in patients with substance use disorder.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for healthcare professionals who see patients at risk for or with addiction.

It is most suited for those new to addiction medicine, such as primary care physicians, clinicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and behavioral health.

Who will you learn with?

Dr. Cara Anne Poland, MD, MEd, FACP, DFASAM
Nationally recognized expert in addiction medicine who's passionate about improving the care of patients with SUD's, particularly those who are pregnant.

Who developed the course?

American Society of Addiction Medicine

The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a professional medical society representing over 7,000 physicians, clinicians, and associated professionals in the field of addiction medicine.

About this ExpertTrack

An introduction to the science, neurobiology, and stigma surrounding addiction.

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