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Resolving the Contradictions of Addiction

Resolving the Contradictions of Addiction

  1. Ilsa
    Abstract
    Research findings on addiction are contradictory. According to biographical records and widely used diagnostic manuals, addicts use drugs compulsively. These accounts are consistent with genetic research and laboratory experiments in which repeated administration of addictive drugs caused changes in neural substrates associated with reward. However, epidemiological and experimental data show that the consequences of drug consumption can significantly modify drug intake in addicts. The disease model can account for the compulsive features of addiction, but not occasions in which price and punishment reduced drug consumption in addicts. Conversely, learning models of addiction can account for the influence of price and punishment, but not compulsive drug taking. The occasion for this paper is that recent developments in behavioral choice theory resolve the apparent contradictions in the addiction literature. The basic argument includes the following four statements. First, repeated consumption of an addictive drug decreases its future value and the future value of competing activities. Second, the frequency of an activity is a function of its relative (not absolute) value. This implies that an activity that reduces the values of competing behaviors can increase in frequency even if its own value also declines. Third, a recent experiment (Heyman & Tanz, 1995) shows that the effective reinforcement contingencies are relative to a frame of reference, and this frame of reference can change so as to favor optimal or sub-optimal choice. Fourth, if the frame of reference is local, reinforcement contingencies will favor excessive drug use, but if the frame of reference is global, the reinforcement contingencies will favor controlled drug use. The transition from a global to local frame of reference explains relapse and other compulsive features of addiction.