, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 213–223 | Cite as

Addiction, Compulsion, and Persistent Temptation

Original Paper


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.


Addiction Compulsion Motivation Craving 


  1. 1.
    Alcoholics Anonymous. 2001. Big Book Online (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Accessed 10-9-2014.
  2. 2.
    West, R. 2006. Theory of addiction. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hari, J. 2005. Chasing the scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Pickard, H., and S. Pearce. 2013. Addiction in context: philosophical lessons from a personality disorder clinic. In Addiction and self-control, ed. N. Levy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Foddy, B., and J. Savulescu. 2010. A liberal account of addiction. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 17: 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Heyman, G. 2009. Addiction: a disorder of choice. Boston: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Sinnott-Armstrong, W. 2013. Are addicts responsible? In Addiction and self-control, ed. N. Levy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ainslie, G. 2001. Breakdown of will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Schroeder, T. 2004. Three faces of desire. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Schroeder, T. 2010. Rational action and addiction. In What is addiction, ed. D. Ross, H. Kincaid, D. Spurrett, and P. Collins. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Holton, R. 2009. Willing, wanting, waiting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Robinson, T., and K. Berridge. 1993. The neural basis of drug craving: an incentive-sensitization theory of addiction. Brain Research Reviews 18: 247–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Holton, R., and K. Berridge. 2013. Addiction between compulsion and choice. In Addiction and self-control, ed. N. Levy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Taylor, J. 2005. Willing addicts, unwilling addicts, and acting of one’s own free will. Philosophia 33: 237–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Dill, B., and R. Holton. 2014. The addict in us all. Frontiers in Psychiatry 5: 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Levy, N. 2006. Addiction, autonomy, and ego-depletion. Bioethics 20(1): 16–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Zaragoza, K. 2006. What happens when someone acts compulsively? Philosophical Studies 131: 251–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Baumeister, R., E. Bratslavsky, M. Muraven, and D. Tice. 1998. Ego depletion: is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74: 1252–1265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Carter, E., L. Kofler, D. Forster, and M. McCullough. 2015. A series of meta-analytic tests of the depletion effect: self-control does not seem to rely on a limited resource. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 144: 796–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Watson, Gary. 1999. Disordered appetites: addiction, compulsion and dependence. In Addiction: Entries and Exits, ed. Jon Elster. Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Loewenstein, G. 1999. A visceral account of addiction. In Getting hooked: rationality and addiction, ed. J. Elster and O.-J. Skog. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hume, David. 1975. A Treatise of Human Nature. In L. A. Selby-Bigge, 2nd ed., revised by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Cherniak, C. 1986. Minimal rationality. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Rachman, S., and P. de Silva. 1978. Abnormal and normal obsessions. Behaviour Research and Therapy 16: 233–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Shuster, Simon. 2011. The curse of the crocodile: Russia’s deadly designer drug. Time, Monday.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Achenbach, Joel. 2014. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death points to broader opioid drug epidemic. Washington Post Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Goldstein, Rita, and Nora Volkow. 2011. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction. Nature Reviews—Neurosicence 12.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Levy, N. 2014. Addiction as a disorder of belief. Biology and Philosophy 29: 337–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Smith, J., R. Mattick, S. Jamadar, and J. Iredale. 2014. Deficits in behavioural inhibition in substance abuse and addiction: a meta-analysis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 145: 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Chiu, Y.-C., and A.R. Aron. 2014. Unconsciously triggered response inhibition requires an executive setting. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General 143: 56–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Wertz, J., and M. Sayette. 2001. A review of the effects of perceived drug use opportunity on self-reported urge. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology 9: 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Papachristou, H., C. Nederkoorn, R. Havermans, M. van der Horst, and A. Jansen. 2012. Can’t stop the craving: the effect of impulsivity on cue-elicited craving for alcohol in heavy and light social drinkers. Psychopharmacology 219: 511–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Tabibnia, G., J. Monterosso, K. Baicy, A. Aron, R. Poldrack, S. Chakrapani, B. Lee, and E. London. 2011. Different forms of self-control share a neurocognitive substrate. Journal of Neuroscience 31: 4805–4810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Smith, D., P. Simon Jones, E. Bullmore, T. Robbins, and K. Ersche. 2014. Enhanced orbitofrontal cortex function and lack of attentional bias to cocaine cues in recreational stimulant users. Biological Psychiatry 75: 124–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Skinner, M., M. Coudert, I. Berlin, E. Passeri, L. Michel, and H.-J. Aubin. 2010. Effect of the threat of a disulfiram-ethanol reaction on cue reactivity in alcoholics. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 112: 239–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Vanderschuren, L., and S. Ahmed. 2013. Animal studies of addictive behavior. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine 3: 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Pelloux, Y., B. Everitt, and A. Dickinson. 2007. Compulsive drug seeking by rats under punishment: effect of drug taking history. Psychopharmacology 194: 127–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionCentral Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA

Personalised recommendations