Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

POPLHLTH 738 - Biology of Addiction

15 Points

Semester 2

This course is offered in alternative years 


Explores the genetic and neurobiological factors that predispose individuals to develop addiction. The neuropharmacology of the main drugs of abuse and factors that are responsible for the variability in drug response (i.e. pharmacokinetics) will be presented. Current neurobiological models of addiction will be considered.

Course content and aim

Goals of the course

At the conclusion of the course students:

  • Will be able to classify drugs based on their pharmacological properties
  • Will be able to apply their learning to case based situations in their daily work
  • Will be able to apply the principles they discover to new and non-covered drugs of abuse

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course the students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of neurobiology as it relates to addiction by describing how specific drugs influence the neurobiological systems thought to mediate drug reward, tolerance and withdrawal
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the neuropharmacology of the main drugs of abuse by describing the pharmacology, effects and complications of alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, opioids, stimulants and tobacco use
  • Demonstrate an understanding of genetics by describing the influence of genetics in predisposing individuals to addiction
  • Critically appraise current neurobiological models of addiction
  • Apply an understanding of neurobiology and pharmacological principles when reviewing and writing up a literature review

Content outline

Basic neurophysiology, especially in relation to neurotransmission; the fundamentals of clinical pharmacology including principles of drug action and pharmacokinetics; overview of the neuropharmacology of drugs of abuse and dependence (opioids, stimulants including nicotine, alcohol, sedatives, cannabis and hallucinogens); reward pathways and neurobiological models of addiction; genetic determinants of addiction. 

Programme and course advice

This course is relevant to those in Health Sciences, Medical Science or Pharmacy programmes. There are no restrictions on entry. It might suit those already working in either the mental health or alcohol and drug fields, or alternatively those BHSc or graduates of social sciences thinking about a career working with this group.

Learning and teaching

This 15 point course is delivered via four block teaching days, located at the Tāmaki Campus. Classes are small and opportunities exist for students to interact to enhance learning. All supporting material will be available on the web, including lectures and most reading material. Teaching assumes a large component of self-directed learning – for each topic a series of revision questions will be made available.

Campus teaching dates

This course is held at Tāmaki Campus. Please see your timetable on SSO or Building 730 Reception noticeboard on the day for the room details.

Learning resources

Readings and resources will be made available online via the Universities Learning Management system.The course text is the following freely available text:

WHO. Neuroscience of psychoactive substance use and dependence. World Health Organisation, Geneva 2004. ISBN 92 4 156235 8 


The course is assessed in three ways:

  • Written assignment 1: Answers to questions on key terms presented during the course – worth 20%.
  • Written assignment 2: A literature review from a prescribed choice of subjects - worth 40%.
  • Written examination: Final 2 hour exam (short answer and essay format questions) - worth 40%.

The software ‘Turnitin” will be used to screen all work for plagiarism.

Course Coordinator

Course Administrator