PHARM 7015EX - Biological Basis of Addiction

External - Trimester 1 - 2016

The course information on this page is being finalised for 2016. Please check again before classes commence.

This course/module is designed to provide an overview of the neuropharmacology of drugs of abuse and dependence, including basic principles of drug action as well as comprehensive coverage of the major classes of drugs (opioids, stimulants, nicotine, alcohol, sedatives, cannabis, hallucinogens). You will study mechanisms of action, effects, pharmacokinetics as well as tolerance and dependence for each of these drugs/drug classes. The reasons for addiction including biological, genetic, cultural and other determinants will be discussed. You will learn about laboratory based methods used in addiction research.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code PHARM 7015EX
    Course Biological Basis of Addiction
    Coordinating Unit Medical Sciences
    Term Trimester 1
    Level Postgraduate Coursework
    Location/s External
    Units 4
    Contact Online
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange N
    Restrictions Available to MSciAddictSt, GradCert and Grad Dip in International Addiction studies students only
    Course Description This course/module is designed to provide an overview of the neuropharmacology of drugs of abuse and dependence, including basic principles of drug action as well as comprehensive coverage of the major classes of drugs (opioids, stimulants, nicotine, alcohol, sedatives, cannabis, hallucinogens). You will study mechanisms of action, effects, pharmacokinetics as well as tolerance and dependence for each of these drugs/drug classes. The reasons for addiction including biological, genetic, cultural and other determinants will be discussed. You will learn about laboratory based methods used in addiction research.
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Dr Femke Buisman-Pijlman

    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

    Week 1 Topic 1
    Week 2 Topic 2
    Week 3 Topic 3
    Week 4 Topic 4
    Week 5 Topic 5
    Week 6 Optional topic / Revision week / Assignment 1
    Week 7 Topic 6
    Week 8 Topic 7
    Week 9 Topic 8
    Week 10 Topic 9 / Assignment 2
    Week 11 Exam
  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes

    1.  Show understanding of the pharmacology of recreational/non-medical used drugs and on drugs used in the treatment of addiction.
    For each drug or drug class this should include:  route of administration; metabolism and pharmacokinetics; mechanism of action;   adverse effects and abuse potential.

    2.  Show understanding of the biological basis of drug addiction and research methods used in drug and addiction research.

    Skills and Attitudes

    3. Classify drugs based on their pharmacological properties.

    4. Work in an interdisciplinary international group in an online environment
    University Graduate Attributes

    No information currently available.

  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    The Master of Science in Addiction Studies Programme curriculum has been designed to be self-contained. You will be provided with the following study aids for each course/module in the learning platform MyUni:
    • Lectures:  Lectures are provided online. Lecture duration varies between 30 and 90 minutes. The lectures outline and exemplify core concepts necessary to grasp the topic.  Your readings will expand on material presented in these lectures.  Lecture handouts are provided online in PowerPoint pdf files that can be viewed, downloaded or printed out.
    • Course Handbook/Syllabus:  A course handbook/syllabus is available online for each course. These contain specific information about the course/module including course learning objectives, assessments and course timetable.
    • Topic Outlines:  Topic outlines are provided online for each study topic and include learning objectives, title of the concept lecture, list of readings and revision questions for each topic.  The revision questions are provided at the end of each topic outline and are intended to help you revise the content of the topic.  You do not need to provide your answers to us.
    • Readings:  A series of suggested readings are listed in the Topic Outline.  Some of these are essential (i.e., their content may be assessed) and others are optional.  Readings may be provided in the VCU library course reserve or online (in the form of pdf files or as links to relevant websites).  Additional or further readings are not a compulsory component but are a useful addition to the core content.  The online readings include both journal articles and book chapters chosen from a variety of sources, which may also represent a wide range of disciplines necessary for the examination of drug-related issues.
    • Discussion Board:  The Discussion Board is a useful tool for exchanging information and ideas and is an important part of your summative assessment.  You will be expected to discuss study topics with other students, but you can also discuss problems you may encounter while studying.  A set number of contributions is compulsory.
    • Online Tests:  The online tests are self-assessments designed to help you determine your progress.  The tests are provided for most of the topics, and their completion may be compulsory in some courses/modules.  However, the mark for the tests usually does not contribute to the overall mark for the course/module.  You may be required to attempt each test at least once in order to be eligible to sit for the examination, but you are encouraged to take the tests as many times as you wish until you are satisfied with the result.  In addition to the correct answers, brief individual feedback is provided for some of the tests.  Please note that these tests are not included in the topic outline.
    Recommended Resources
    Some students prefer to have another textbook as a resource.  The book Principles of Addiction Medicine by Ries, Fiellin, Miller and Saitz (4th edition) might be useful (5th edition is in preparation).  It deals with the topic in the Biological Basis of Addiction and Pharmacotherapy course.
    Online Learning
    The International Programme in Addiction Studies is delivered entirely online; no campus attendance is required.  The programme is available to students from all countries, however, online lectures, assignments and correspondence are in English only.
  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes

    Each week new material is released that you will work through.  Your first focus should be on the Topic outline as this describes what you need to master on a certain topic and what information is available to you. Each study topic is comprised of the following components:
    • learning objectives
    • revision questions
    • concept lecture
    • readings
    • quiz to test your understanding (not graded)
    • discussion forum

    The topic outline, lecture and other documents will be available on Blackboard in a separate folder for each topic.  Study material for each consecutive topic will usually be made available online on Monday of each study week since you will have one new topic each week.

    Each topic has a Topic Outline which describes the components and the learning objectives.  Learning objectives describe what will be tested in the exam.  Topics can have subtopics (A and B etc).  Please look at the timetable in the back to verify which topics have to be done in which week.  It is best if you avoid the temptation to skim through the topics.  Systematically working through them at a reasonable pace will bring better results.  However, let us know if you need to complete some topics ahead of time due to work or family commitments.  We will provide individual access to the essential study material and will help you adjust your timetable to your circumstances.

    There are strict rules that apply to the use of online study material.  Students are expected to become familiar with copyright information prior to accessing online study material:


    Lectures are used to provide a framework for your learning.  They have been prepared by experts in the field:  IPAS lecturers and external guest lecturers.  Lectures are provided online as a PowerPoint presentation with voice-over. While viewing/listening to a lecture you can stop, pause, scroll forward or back as necessary.  You can use the menu to find a specific topic.  The presentations often include a biography and picture of the lecturer.  Lectures are usually approximately one hour in duration, but may vary between 45 and 90 minutes.  Some topics have more than one subtopic and can have separate lectures and readings for these subtopics.

    PowerPoint slides for each lecture are also available online as pdf files.


    Essential Readings
    One or more essential readings have been set for each topic and this material can be assessed in the exam.  Readings are selected to complement and expand on issues discussed in the concept lecture.  Readings often have more information than what is describe in the learning objectives; only the items described in the learning objectives will be examined.

    Additional Readings
    A number of additional readings have also been included.  You are not expected to know information from these readings by heart for the exam, but they may help your understanding of the issues learned and could be used in your assignment and/or examination answers to exemplify important concepts.  Readings are available online for each topic.  You can use your access to the library to find publications, if a direct link is not provided.  Lecturers may also suggest additional readings.  These will not be assessed unless these are specifically listed as essential readings in the topic outline.

    The learning objectives are provided for each study topic and are listed in the Topic Outlines.  Use them to guide your revision of the topic.  The revision questions are an example of questions that can be used in the exam.  You can test your understanding of the material by doing the online tests we provide in Blackboard for each topic.  These do not provide comprehensive cover of the topic.  You will get direct feedback to your response.  These tests are not graded or monitored and you can repeat them if you want.


    The Discussion Board is a great forum to discuss your understanding with others and to share your insights.  It is a formal professional forum where you practice your professional skills.  Posts should focus on content, not be opinion-based but rely on evidence from the literature.

    Detailed information and instructions for Discussion Board participation are provided in the Program Guidelines and Policies booklet.  You are required to contribute to the discussion and your contributions will also strongly contribute to your grade.  You will be graded on participation and professional communication skills.

    In this course/module, study topic discussions will usually be initiated on the Monday of each study week.  For some topics the teaching staff will start a discussion by posting one or more questions or suggesting threads for discussion.  For other topics students will be expected to identify issues and initiate discussion themselves.  Students are expected to check the Discussion Board repeatedly for each topic.

    The topic discussion will usually continue for two weeks at which time the forum will close for that week.  This is also your opportunity to share your professional or research experience and learn from your fellow students.  Since most students have experience in the field, this will also be a valuable learning environment.  You can embed your experiences with research that has been published.
    A number of general forums (e.g., Administrative Issues; Academic Issues) will remain open throughout the course/module and their content, while monitored regularly, will not be assessed.


    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    The expected work load for the course is 20 hours a week. This will be spent on reviewing the video and reading material, doing the revision quizzes, engaging in discussion and preparing for the assessments.
    Learning Activities Summary
    The following topics will be taught:

    Topic 1: Principles Principles of Pharmacology 1 – Pharmacodynamics
    Topic 2: Principles of Pharmacology 2 – Pharmacokinetics
    Topic 3: Biology of Addiction
    Topic 4: Opioids
    Topic 5: Part A – Stimulants; Part B – Nicotine

    Revision week + optional topic: Animal and Human Laboratory Based Research Methods

    Topic 6: Alcohol
    Topic 7: Part A – Benzodiazepines; Part B – Barbiturates, GHB and Inhalants
    Topic 8: Part A – Cannabis; Part B – Hallucinogens
    Topic 9: Genetic, Cultural and Other Determinants of Substance Use and Addiction

    You will study one topic each week with a week for revision in Week 6.
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment Task Task Type Due
    Weighting Learning Outcome
    Online Tests Formative

    Discussion Board participation Summative Weeks 1-10 20%
    Written Assignment 1 Summative Week 6 10%
    Written Assignment 2 Summative Week 10 30%
    Written Examination Summative Week 11 40%
    Assessment Detail

    Formative assessment (or non graded) in this course/module includes online tests that are designed to help you study and increase your level of understanding of the course/module material.  The tests will be undertaken online.  Feedback will be provided in the form of model answers or comments and question/test scores (you will see your own results for each question in the test).  You can attempt the tests multiple times (and achieve the highest score possible, if you wish).  However, only the last attempt is saved.  Since this assessment is formative, the scores for these tests will not contribute to your final grade for the course/module; however the completion of the quizzes will be strongly advised.


    Discussion Board

    Your ability to effectively communicate your intellectual curiosity and ideas to others in an online discussion and doing so in a timely fashion will be assessed.  Each week that a student serves as a “lead” discussant will count 30% toward their discussion board mark.  The remaining weeks, when students are only required to comment on the posts of others will make up the additional 10% of the mark.  
    Your performance in the topic discussion board forums will be graded.  There are seven graded forums in this course.  Although you will be responsible for reading and responding to discussion topics each week, the level of participation expected will vary for each student by week.

    Week 1:  all students will be post a response to the question posed by the instructor and one reply to a student post.
    After this, all students are divided in three groups that have alternating roles.

    Week 2:
    Group A students post a response to instructors question and two replies to other posts.
    Group B students add one substantial post to the discussion
    Group C students add one substantial post to the discussion

    And so on.  A table with groups and dates will be made available in MyVCU in the first week.

    Having all students participate in the first week’s discussion will allow students to become engaged with the course material immediately, and also will allow instructors to provide feedback to all students early in the course to shape their ongoing work.  Students may provide more additional responses, but this is the minimum expected.

    Thus, each student is responsible for formally and fully responding to the week’s discussion question(s) during three weeks:  Week 1 (all students) and two additional weeks.  There will be at least two weeks without an assigned discussion.

    *The manner in which Discussion Board is managed may be subject to revision depending upon enrolment.

    Written Assignment 1:  Long Answer Questions

    The aim of this assignment is to review some key terms in pharmacology and practice formulating comprehensive answers.  It is vital to use your own wording and provide a reference to the information you give.  Although this is an open book assignment, the answers should be your own work; copying from lectures or other material is considered plagiarism.  We will test knowledge and understanding.  
    Written Assignment 2:  Essay
    The aim of this essay is to demonstrate understanding of the course material, an academic writing style and critical appraisal of information sources.  The topic will be announced on Blackboard.  Style requirements are described in the Program Guidelines and Policies handbook, available on Blackboard.

    Word length: 2,000 (excluding reference list; including title and in-text references).  We expect at least 15 references (primarily peer-reviewed).  Please use as many additional sources as possible to complement any information provided in the program.  The essay shows your skills in searching, appraising information, analyzing the information and writing a clear argument.

    The work will be graded using a rubric that will be provided to you.  The essays will be uploaded in a tool like TurnItIn, to assess originality of work.

    Written Examination

    • The examination will be one hour in duration and will be done on a computer (no internet access).
    • You will be allowed to select a number of questions to answer.
    • You will be asked to provide extensive, in-depth and comprehensive answers on a number of questions.
    • It will be your responsibility to organise a supervisor and suitable venue with computer.  Please read the detailed information and instructions on Examinations in the Program Guidelines and Policies booklet (available on Blackboard at Course Information/Handbooks).
    • You will have to provide us with information on your proposed examiner and venue by the date specified on Blackboard.

    The Examination Supervisor Details Form is available on Blackboard (Course Information/Forms).
    A Statutory Declaration Form will need to be filled out and signed during your exam.  This form is required by the University of Adelaide to be completed to guarantee that you will not discuss or divulge the contents of the examination paper(s) to anyone and that you have acted according to the VCU Honour code.  Your Examination Supervisor (or another person authorised to do so) may witness this and it should be returned with the examination paper(s).  Examination papers will not be marked until a completed Statutory Declaration form is received. 


    You will receive and submit your written assignments electronically via the Assignment section in Blackboard or via email if you are instructed to do so.  In each course where written assignments are required, you will receive specific instructions as to the manner in which you will be expected to make assignment submissions.  Please refer to your course handbook for instructions.

    Please be advised that this is an intensive programme with few breaks.  Family holidays and similar events are not considered reasons for an inability to complete assignments.  If you need to travel, it is essential that you be aware that it is your responsibility to assure reliable internet access.  If you have any doubt of your ability to maintain contact with the programme, you must let us know ahead of time, and you can chose not to enroll in a course.


    Several courses use exams that can be either supervised written exams or computer-based open book exam.  These exams will have a specific time at which they need to be completed.  The duration and mode of the examination may vary by course/module at the discretion of the course/module director.
    Supervisor and Venue 
    Where there is an unseen written examination, the student will be responsible for organising both venue (with computer) and examination supervisor.  Your course/module handbook will indicate the date by which you will have to provide the course/module coordinator with the details of your nominated examiner.  This mode of examiniation offers many advantages to the student, such as flexibility in time and location of the exam.  If you feel disadvantaged by sitting the exam on a computer (e.g. due to disability), you may request alternative arrangements based on the normal VCU exam regulations in a timely fashion.

    The nominated person should be university level academic personnel.  If you have difficulty finding an independent academic, please contact your course/module co-ordinator.

    The supervisor should not be a member of your immediate family or a work colleague.
    The Exam Supervisor Details form is available on Blackboard.  The completed form should be returned to the course co-ordinator by the due date indicated on Blackboard.  A statutory declaration form will be signed by the supervisor and the student at the time of the exam.  The examination parcel will be emailed to the nominated supervisor along with the Exam Supervisor Instruction Sheet.  Note that we cannot accept responsibility for your supervisor not receiving the examination paper if the form is not received by the due date. The examination supervisor will be responsible for conducting the examination according to the instructions and sending the documents back to us.  Exam work from closed-book exams submitted by students will not be marked.

    A venue must provide the student with privacy and quiet for the duration of the examination.  A suitable venue, for example, might be a classroom at the local high school, or side room in a library.  Most examinations may require a computer (without internet access).

    Supplementary Examination
    Supplementary examinations may be granted on medical, compassionate or academic grounds. This will need to be ratified by the Program Co-ordinator or School of Medical Sciences depending on the length of the extension.

    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

    Students are reminded that in order to maintain the academic integrity of all programs and courses, the university has a zero-tolerance approach to students offering money or significant value goods or services to any staff member who is involved in their teaching or assessment. Students offering lecturers or tutors or professional staff anything more than a small token of appreciation is totally unacceptable, in any circumstances. Staff members are obliged to report all such incidents to their supervisor/manager, who will refer them for action under the university's student’s disciplinary procedures.

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