Course Syllabus


Cognitive Neuroscience of Addiction

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Semester & Location:

Spring 2023 - DIS Stockholm

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Study Tours:

Sweden | England

Major Disciplines:

Neuroscience, Pre-Medicine / Health Science, Psychology


One course in neuroscience, physiological psychology, biological psychology, or cognitive psychology at university level.

Faculty Members:

Ebba Karlsson (current students please use the Canvas Inbox)

Program Contact:

Department email address

Academic support:

Time & Place:

Mondays and Thursdays, 8.30-9.50.

Location: 1D-409

Course Description

Addictive disorders involve complex interactions among neurobiological, psychological, environmental, and sociocultural features and can reflect problems across a range of substances or behaviors. From drug abuse, to gambling, to the more controversial sex addiction and food addiction, problems with addiction share important commonalities in neurocircuitry. In this course, we will adopt a multidisciplinary lens and review contemporary research involving techniques such as neuroimaging, brain stimulation, and real-time neurofeedback to explore addiction processes and strategies for treatment and prevention. Finally, we will explore various approaches for addressing problems with addiction and discuss similarities and differences across the United States and Scandinavia. 

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe the nature of addiction using a multidisciplinary framework, including biological, psychological, sociocultural, and systemic factors. 
  • Synthesize and critically evaluate the neural implications of addiction processes.
  • Describe and critically evaluate contemporary research methods that are used to understand the neuroscience of addiction. 
  • Compare and contrast intervention strategies for addiction between the United States and Scandinavia.


Psychology, Ebba Karlsson

Ebba Karlsson

DIS Stockholm Faculty

M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology (Stockholm University, 2015), B.A. in Philosophy (Stockholm University, 2013). Visiting student in Politics and Public Policy at New York University, and research internship at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University. Founder of Poplar, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving political civility in society. Also working as a licensed clinical psychologist and organizational consultant, focusing on leadership development, stress resilience, and well-being. With DIS since 2016.


(Please note that these may be subject to change)

Book and book chapters:

Maté, G. (2018). In the realm of hungry ghosts: Close encounters with addiction. Penguin Random House.



IJAY_Berglund et al., 2022.pdf

Heilig, M., MacKillop, J., Martinez, D., Rehm, J., Leggio, L., & Vanderschuren, L. J. (2021). Addiction as a brain disease revised: why it still matters, and the need for consilience. Neuropsychopharmacology, 46(10), 1715-1723.

Kwarteng, A. E., Rahman, M. M., Gee, D. G., Infante, M. A., Tapert, S. F., & Curtis, B. L. (2021). Child reward neurocircuitry and parental substance use history: Findings from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. Addictive behaviors122, 107034.

Wolfschlag M, Håkansson A. Increased risk for developing gambling disorder under the treatment with pramipexole, ropinirole, and aripiprazole: A nationwide register study in Sweden. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 1;16(6):e0252516. 

More articles will be added during the semester.

Other media:

Interview with Anna Lembke, author of Dopamine Nation:

Podcast on porn addiction:

Recommended readings:

Hyman, S. E., Malenka, R. C., & Nestler, E. J. (2006). Neural mechanisms of addiction: The Role of Reward-Related Learning and Memory. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 29(1), 565–598. 

Field Studies

The field studies may include activities such as the following:

  • Visiting a center for drug rehabilitation to learn about their treatment strategies
  • Visiting a tobacco producer to understand methods of measuring nicotine to tobacco ratios across different cigarette types
  • Visiting a research lab that specializes in addiction research 

Guest Lecturers

The guest lecturers are to be determined but may include the following:

  • Sexologist to discuss sex addiction
  • Lived experience narrative from someone in recovery or impacted by addiction 
  • Psychopharmacology researcher to describe current research on the neural implications of substance use 
  • Legal expert or law enforcement officer to discuss substance use or related public health policies in Sweden

Approach to Teaching

My approach to teaching is based on a core assumption: Learning is a collective endeavour in which the contribution of each individual has an impact on how much is learned overall. Lectures can serve a valuable purpose both in providing useful information and in stimulating creative thought. But genuine learning takes place only when the student takes an active role –in reading carefully, thinking critically, in raising questions and objections, and in listening to others. It is only through engaged dialogue that we have the capacity to enrich our understanding of the world. My expectation is that students will actively engage in the learning process, both inside and outside the classroom.   

The course utilizes a variety of pedagogical methods, including lectures, discussions, student presentations, and study visits. There is a strong emphasis on discussion and student participation. Everyone is expected to not only complete the readings for each class, but to come to class well prepared to engage in discussion.

Attendance at all lectures and field studies is mandatory.

Note that it is important to check your e-mail and DIS Canvas regularly since outlines, assignment info etc. will be distributed here.

Expectations of the Students

Students are expected to have done the readings and come prepared with relevant questions and notes for each class. This will give us material to generate conversation. When responding to questions in class, make reference to our readings to support the points you are making. Students are expected to challenge themselves and their worldviews with an investigative mindset and curiosity, seeking to understand the topics at hand as well as how they relate to themselves as individuals and the world around them.

A Word on Laptops in the Classroom

The default policy for this class is NO laptops in the classroom.  Both academic research and personal experience have shown laptops to be an enormous source of distraction and an impediment to engaged discussion as well as learning. Thank you for your understanding. 


Note. To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work.

You will be evaluated based on your performance on the course assignments as outlined below. Additional details will be provided in class.


Class participation and engagement - 25%

Preparation, attendance, and engagement in classes, field studies, and guest lectures is essential in this course because it shows that you are taking responsibility for your own learning. It also demonstrates that you are keeping up with the readings and understanding the theoretical perspectives and research evidence discussed in class. Your participation and engagement grade will be calculated based on your ability to meet the following criteria:

  • You are engaged throughout our class meeting/field study/guest lecture and demonstrate this by prompting discussion and/or responding to your peers by linking comments and asking relevant questions.
  • Your contributions reflect a thoughtful (rather than superficial) understanding of the reading assignments and demonstrate an ability to integrate knowledge across reading assignments.
  • You offer more than just personal opinion or anecdote – that is, you root your comments in the text we are discussing (e.g., “this reminds me of p. 76 where the authors indicate X”) and link ideas and comments with content from past reading assignments.
  • You listen attentively and respectfully to others (and you avoid dominating or silencing others).
  • You work collaboratively with people to achieve learning goals when you are placed in a small group.

At the beginning of each class there will be POP presentations where you will have the opportunity to share your critical thoughts and reactions to the reading assignments. While doing the readings you should consider the following:  1) what are the main thing that you learned from the readings,  2) what was confusing/something you would like to learn more about, 3) how does the reading connect to something else we have discussed in the course.  Please do not focus on whether you liked the reading or found it to be interesting – these types of comments are superficial and should be avoided. Instead, try to demonstrate your ability to think critically and deeply about the reading assignments in your discussion post. More information about the POP presentations will be given at the start of the course.

Core Course Week Assignment: Reflective Paper 1 - 10%

The first Reflective Paper will focus on your experiences and learning during the Core Course study tour. The paper should convey what you learned during the week, detail one particular experience that you enjoyed or was particularly memorable in some way (and why), and connect this learning to the course reading assignments (i.e., integrate theory and research in discussing your learning from CCW).  This assignment will be due the following class after returning from Core Course week. 

Long study tour Assignment: Group presentations - 25%

Addiction in London (25%; Visual product and class presentation) 

Each group will create a visual product (video or photo collection, potentially with interview audio or quotes) and present it in a 10-minute class presentation.  

 The groups each have a theme from the field of neuroscience of addiction, and the assignment is to connect the theme to the learnings and experiences we have had during the long study tour as well as to theories and findings in addiction.  

How you approach the assignment is very much up to the group, but the following aspects should be covered:  

  • How do you understand the theme in relation to addiction? 
  • Which theories of addiction do you think resonate with this theme? 
  • What does the theme mean to local Londoners?  
  • What have you learned during the tour? 
  • How do the Londoners perceive their situation/level of the theme?  

Material for the product should be photos or videos you take during the tour, at least one interview with Londoners, and information from our academic visits. When presenting, the group will facilitate a class discussion on aspects they find relevant to their theme. 

The assignment will be evaluated on  

  • Relevance and clarity in how the connection to the neuroscience of addiction is drawn.  
  • Facilitation of class discussion and reflection.  
  • Creativity - how the visual product manages to shed light on the theme.  
  • Group coherence and collaboration. 

London Tour Presentation Groups will be assigned before the tour. 

The Debate! - 15%

You will be assigned a partner and a topic for the debate and will be asked to present your case against another pair of students (who will present an opposing argument). Each group should prepare a 5 minute opening statement for their stance.

The topics for the debate will involve issues of some controversy in the field of addiction: for example, should marijuana be legalized? Should casinos screen and exclude people with gambling disorder? Should schools implement screening and intervention for “food addiction” or “sex addiction”? And so forth. You will have the opportunity to prepare your argument by reviewing scholarly research and also investigating local policies and laws, and you should try to consider contextual features (in this case, Scandinavian vs. U.S. perspectives) to support your points. You will be evaluated on your preparation, comprehensiveness, clarity, logic, and collaboration. After each debate, the class will decide which stance was stronger (but grades will not be impacted by decisions about who won the debate).

You will be graded both on an individual and group level.


Open-format group research project - 25%

The group research project will focus on strategies for prevention or treatment of addiction in Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland), and whether or not these approaches makes sense given research on the neurobiological aspects of addiction. You should identify a prevention or treatment strategy that addresses some aspect of addiction and then critically evaluate that approach based on our current understanding of addiction. However, you will not present your research in a standard research paper - instead, you will present your research in a manner that would be understandable to a lay audience (of your choice). For example:

  • A policy brief for lawmakers on the drinking age in Denmark, and if this could lead to higher risk of substance use disorder later on in life.
  • An infographic for health professionals on the benefits of cannabis in multiple sclerosis, and the rationale for Sweden’s legalization of Sativex, a mouth spray.
  • A TikTok video for youth explaining what happens during a heroin overdose and how doctors provide medical assistance in those instances. 
  • A podcast episode describing the research on “food addiction” and how environmental factors amplify biological predispositions for disordered eating behaviors. 

You will be assigned to groups early in the semester. Please note that you will be asked to identify your research topic and the format of your presentation, and these must be approved in advance by the instructor. You will receive a group grade for the assignment. 


You will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • How well do you explain the concept/research finding you have chosen? From background to more in-depth analysis and critical perspectives.
  • Relevance and clarity on how the connection between the chosen theme and learnings from the course are drawn.
  • How well the presentation and visuals/project work are done.
  • Facilitation of class discussion and reflection.
  • Group coherence and collaboration.
  • Formalia (i.e. correct referencing, time allocation, etc.)





Participation & engagement


Core Course Week Assignment


Long study tour group presentation


The debate


Open-format group research project





Academic Regulations 

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due