Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 462–473 | Cite as

Four teleological theories of addiction

  • Howard RachlinEmail author


Four theories are presented to account for addiction, defined as a high rate of consumption of a substance that is ultimately harmful to the organism. The theories are teleological and behavioral in the sense that the ultimate motivational forces they posit lie in the environmental context of behavior—in an economic utility function or a process of behavioral adjustment—rather than in an internal physiological or cognitive mechanism. A theory by the psychologists Richard Herrnstein and Drazen Prelec is discussed that shows how melioration (maximization of local, as opposed to overall, or global, utility) may lead down a “primrose path” to addiction. A theory by the economists Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy shows how a primrose path may exist even when overall utility is maximized—provided that utility of temporally distant events is discounted. Two other theories, one by George Stigler and Gary Becker and one introduced here, an elaboration of the Stigler-Becker theory called “relative addiction,” specify economic properties of addictive substances that would create the primrose path.


Relative Price Price Sensitization Addictive Substance Real Price Discount Function 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentState University of New YorkStony Brook

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