Four teleological theories of addiction

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Howard Rachlin.

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The preparation of this manuscript was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

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Rachlin, H. Four teleological theories of addiction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 4, 462–473 (1997). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03214335

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Keywords

  • Relative Price
  • Price Sensitization
  • Addictive Substance
  • Real Price
  • Discount Function