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COU8013 Introduction to Psychoactive Drugs

Semester 2, 2022 Online
Units : 1
Faculty or Section : Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences
School or Department : School of Psychology and Wellbeing
Student contribution band : Professional Pathway Psych
Grading basis : Graded
Version produced : 18 May 2022


Examiner: Rebecca Lane


Pre-requisite: Students must be enrolled in one of the following Programs: GCAD or GDCN or MPPS or GCCO or MCCO


In the years since the mid-1980s, Australia has developed a multifaceted public health approach to the problem of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and misuse. Just as multifaceted, however, is the nature of the problem itself. The use of psychoactive substances can vary widely in terms of method of administration or ingestion, the interaction with an individual’s biology and psychological makeup, and the potential for recovery and rehabilitation. For those who work with alcohol and/or drug using clients, knowledge of the range of substances and their presentation is fundamental to decisions regarding intervention and treatment. A thorough grounding in such knowledge enables competent discrimination between the types of substance used, their effects on individual clients, and the capacity to distinguish AOD effects from biological and environmental factors.

This course focuses primarily on acquisition of foundation knowledge and is divided into three parts. The first part, Modules 1 and 2, concern the evolution and current status of drug classification systems, as well as information about the psychophysiology of drug addiction. The second part, Modules 3 to 9, focuses on specific classes of drugs, including stimulants, depressants, and alcohol, and covers all of the common and emergent forms of substance misuse. Students are guided through readings and activities to develop their core knowledge of drug classes, the effects of each drug type, including physical, psychological, and teratogenic risks, and the rehabilitative potential for each. The final aspect of the course, Module 10, pertains to ethics and cultural factors as a foundation for professional practice. The course is presented in a structured 10-module format, and assessed via a series of online quizzes and a major written assignment addressing a discipline-specific or practice-relevant topic.

Course learning outcomes

On completion of this course students should be able to:

  1. critically review the history and current status of the classification system for drugs of addiction and misuse;
  2. describe the psychophysiology of addictive substances, including their interaction;
  3. critically discuss specific drugs and their physical, psychological, and teratogenic risks;
  4. describe other recognised drugs of addiction and non-drug addictive behaviours;
  5. discriminate between the effects of different drugs and drug classes;
  6. apply knowledge of drugs and drug classes to a discipline-specific practice setting;
  7. incorporate awareness of discipline-specific ethical practice and cultural awareness to the practice setting.


Description Weighting(%)
1. Overview: History and classification of psychoactive drugs 10.00
2. The brain and psychoactive drugs 10.00
3. The uppers: Central nervous system stimulants 10.00
4. The downers: Central nervous system depressants
Part 1: Opiates, benzodiazepines and cannabis
5. The downers: Central nervous system depressants
Part 2: Alcohol
6. The downers: Central nervous system depressants
Part 3: Volatile substance misuse
7. Hallucinogens, and ecstasy and related drugs (ERDs) 10.00
8. Psychoactive drugs and mental health 10.00
9. The impact of psychoactive drug use on pregnancy 10.00
10. Ethics and cultural aspects of psychoactive drugs 10.00

Text and materials required to be purchased or accessed

Abadinsky, H 2017, Drug Use and Abuse, A Comprehensive Introduction, 9th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.

Student workload expectations

To do well in this subject, students are expected to commit approximately 10 hours per week including class contact hours, independent study, and all assessment tasks. If you are undertaking additional activities, which may include placements and residential schools, the weekly workload hours may vary.

Assessment details

Approach Type Description Group
Weighting (%) Course learning outcomes
Assignments Oral Presentation (ind, grp, mltmd) No 10 1,2
Assignments Written Case Study No 50 6,7
Assignments Written Quiz No 40 1,2,3,4
Date printed 18 May 2022