Addiction, Compulsion, and Persistent Temptation
Addicts sometimes engage in such spectacularly self-destructive behavior that they seem to act under compulsion. I briefly review the claim that addiction is not compulsive at all. I then consider recent accounts of addiction by Holton and Schroeder, which characterize addiction in terms of abnormally strong motivations. However, this account can only explain the apparent compulsivity of addiction if we assume—contrary to what we know about addicts—that the desires are so strong as to be irresistible. I then consider accounts that invoke the phenomenon of “ego depletion,” according to which a person can resist temptation for a while, but not indefinitely. Implicit in this account is the assumption that addiction-related desires persist long enough to deplete the addict’s willpower. The balance of the paper argues that the persistence of the desire to consume drugs is a significant form of dysfunction in its own right, and that it makes an important and independent contribution to the compulsivity of addiction. I argue that addiction involves dysfunction in a mechanism that normally prevents a person from being tempted to do something that would invite disaster.