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PSYC431 History and Theory of Drug Use and Abuse

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Exploration of historical factors involved in the use and abuse of drugs. Theoretical accounts of the use and abuse of drugs will also be explored.

Drug use and abuse is an unavoidable aspect of today's world. Ideas, theories, and policy around drug use and abuse are a function of changing social and political systems throughout history. The objective of this paper is to explore the history of drug use throughout different world societies and cultures. We will also discuss and critique a range of theories of drug abuse, as well as social and political factors that have shaped theories of drug addiction and drug policy. Being literate in this area will allow students to better evaluate and critique the social and political response to this difficult issue, and will assist in making informed decisions and engaging in policy discussions and advocacy.

Paper title History and Theory of Drug Use and Abuse
Paper code PSYC431
Subject Psychology
EFTS 0.0833
Points 10 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2021 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $673.90
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $2,981.97

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PSYC 476

Entry into Psychology 400-level normally requires a major in Psychology, a B+ average or higher in Psychology 300-level papers, and a pass in PSYC 311 Quantitative Methods. We highly recommend that students have completed PSYC 310. Students from other universities must show evidence of an equivalent level of competence.

For Neuroscience students, the prerequisites are met by completion of the requirements for a BSc in Neuroscience with an average grade of at least B+ in 300-level Neuroscience papers.


Dr Ryan Ward

Teaching staff

Dr Ryan Ward

Paper Structure

The paper consists of lectures, in-class exercises, and class discussions.

Lecture topics include:

  • History of drugs in New Zealand
  • History of drugs in the western world
  • History of drugs in Asia
  • Disease models of addiction
  • Choice models of addiction
  • Biopsychosocial models of addiction
  • Experiential/Environmental models of addiction
  • Treatment approaches for drug abuse
  • The war on drugs
  • Social and political factors in drug policy

In class exercises - these will be intended to engage the students in preparation for the course, and to help them participate in the day's class. Exercises may include but not be limited to:

  • Mini paper: Students are asked to take out a piece of paper and write as much as they know about a given topic.
  • Worst/Best: Students are asked to take out a piece of paper and to write what aspects of the lecture they understood the worst/best. They are then invited to turn to the student next to them and share their answers and explain the points of confusion to clarify for one another.
  • Pop quiz: Students are given a quiz on the days reading material before class.
  • Take a side: Students must argue either for or against a position on a particular topic of relevance to the day's lecture

Analysis piece - The purpose of this assignment is to allow students to explore an issue related to models of drug abuse in more detail. Specifically, they will read opposing viewpoints on several different models of addiction, compare and contrast these viewpoints, and synthesize the information to come to their own conclusions.


  • In-class exercises: 5%
  • Analysis piece: 15%
  • Exam: 30%
  • Final Exam: 50%
Teaching Arrangements

The paper consists of lectures, in class exercises, and class discussions. Class meetings – consisting of lectures, discussions, and in class work, will be held once a week.


To be advised

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this paper will

  • Understand how different cultures and societies have used drugs throughout history
  • Understand the differences between models of drug abuse
  • Understand how social and political factors have shaped and influenced drug policy and the 'War on Drugs'
  • Research several different models of drug abuse, provide a written evaluation that compares and contrasts those models, and give an opinion on which models are best supported by empirical research

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Not offered in 2021

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system