How successful theories of addiction encapsulate aspects of addictive behaviour?


Addiction has been widely explained in psychology literature. Each explanation is linked to the main definition where addiction is an individual, difficult and sometimes unmanageable journey for each person affected with addiction. It is a constant battle where one who tries to change their reality, and in most cases continuously failing to do so.

Over the years, psychologists have defined addiction cautiously.  According to Krivanck (1988), addiction is perceived as a process rather than behaviour and is best described on a variety of severity. Nevertheless, loss of control is subjective and increased by ethical issues, since it suggests a certain level of responsibility and blame. Addicts behave in a particular way, communicating differently and adapting to situations depending on the surroundings and environment in which they find themselves.

This essay will try to find answer on “how prosperous have theories of addiction been and how they sum the characteristics of addictive behaviour”. There are many theories of addiction and each theory explains addictive behaviour in different ways. Over the years, different theories of addictive behaviour have attempted to promote a better understanding of addiction and have helped to change people and their lives.

All these models concentrate on the process of development of the addiction and propose independent explanations of addictive behaviour. They also suggest prevention, intervention and treatment (Leonard & Blane 1998). Supporting evidence is presented in order to evaluate the explanation of addictive behaviour

In order to try to find the best defined theory of Addiction and put all pieces of addictive behaviour together, scientists have divided the theories into five groups. Firstly the addiction as a rational, informed choice based on stable preferences, secondly the concepts of impulse and self-control, thirdly addiction as habit and instrumental learning and finally synthetic theory of motivation.

In order to find the aspects of addictive behaviour in each of the addictive theory models, it is necessary to organise the theories to present a description for the most important and significant science account.

According to Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) Fishbein and  Middlestadt, (1987),  the key difference which marks the Choice Theories are official form of the decision process, theoretical examination and the subject of rationality and irrationality. The preliminary central theme in Choice Theory is the person’s choice of preferences such as desires, tastes, appetites and interests and also people’s attitude towards environmental restriction and possibility. The Choice Theory states that an addict assess all choices and options, which are in highest ranking of his or her desires and beliefs, and therefore takes action (Elster, 1984).

According to Becker and Murphy (1988), Rational Choice theory clearly captures aspects of addictive behaviour. According to this Model addiction is rational and has stable preferences which are desires, tastes, appetites or interests. Rational Choice theory can explain a variety of addictive behaviour. Becker and Murphy (1988) have proposed the ideal theory which is based on rational stable preference of addiction and an addict’s “consistent plan to maximise utility over time”. As indicated by Becker and Murphy (1988), the utility (goods) is an efficient measure of happiness and wellbeing. Becker and Murphy (1988) believed that heroin use is a symptom of other factors for example a negative life event that provides motivation to use heroin. Use of heroin emerges as a rational behaviour of the addict which is consistent with his/her plan to make the most of the utility over time. Becker and Murphy (1998), in one of the research on Vietnam veterans, make use of the traumatic events throughout the war to show an example of how a person can obtain addictive resources. The harrowing events that veterans experience during the war can be seen as growing addictive assets or capital.  This may perhaps be the grounds which trigger the addictive behaviour and shift their consumption of heroin to higher levels. Possibly some of the Vietnam veterans may move forward into one of the “steady state paths”. Maybe some of Vietnam veterans didn’t intensify the addictive capital and did not use the heroin at all. Some people can recover from negative life events faster than others. People try to block the effect of negative live events by using heroin or other drugs. Becker and Murphy’s (1998) model presents the addictive resource as the memory of the negative life events which heroin eliminates and also maintains the addictive capital.

To make some final conclusions on the model of rational heroin use, it will be necessary to present the Akerlof (1991) study of teenage gangs and their connection with drugs.

Someone can illustrate that street gang is primarily gifted with addictive capital, because of the reflection on the circumstances in which they grow up.  Those youth then revolve to crime, drugs and gangs for the reason that they have high levels of addictive resources. Some of them may not have enough addictive resources and this will reduce their involvement. At the same time some will become addicted to heroin and will not be able to break out of the cruel circle of addictive capital. Because of life preference, they will not think about their future or the value of their life. Young gang members do not worry about the consequences of their present actions and that can be one of the reasons why they become addicted. Akerlof (1991) comments on the public health programs and education policy which tend to influence the rates of addiction. He points that such institutions can have an effect on “youth’s rates of time preference”. Here harm reduction policy can be created in order to reduce the cause outcome and consequence of an active heroin addiction on addictive resources and capital (Becker GS, Grossman M, Murphy (1991)).

As the rational choice approach to behaviour is based on individual decisions, it proposes that every decision is made by weighing the advantage and disadvantages of alternative actions. There are some criticisms to this approach that mainly focus on assumptions about how the decisions are made. Critics of the rational choice theory also argue that it may not be correct to assume that individuals act in a consistent manner over a period of time. In general, in spite of criticisms, no approach of comparable generality has yet been developed that offers serious competition to the rational choice theory (Becker, G.S, 1992. page 52).

The next part of the essay will discuss the theory form group of the concept of impulse control and self regulation. The Disease Theory of Addiction (Roizen 1987) is one of the most controversial theories with a long history of research. As Kurtz and Regier take us back to 1975, we are reminded that “”The disease concept provided a new label, and alcohologists saw in it the hope for recruiting a more respectable clientele for treatment” (p. 1425). Towards the end of the 1940’s, alcohol therapy professionals were making an effort to get a superior and improved arrangement for alcoholics. On the other hand those professionals were trying to get a better deal for themselves.

The Disease Model of addiction by Jellinek (1960) implies that pathology, which is primary to addiction, engages changes in the brain that can direct people to do things hostile to their will. This theory searches for the explanation of individual differences, the development of addiction and vulnerability and receptiveness to improve and retrieve lost ability by recovering from it. Furthermore, this model also controls the concept of compulsion, craving and self-control.

According to self- control concept, addicted individual will try to make an effort to stop engaging in addictive behaviour and will demonstrate all signs that he/she really wants stop but on the other hand will keep his involvement in the addiction. Addicts will try to stop using heroin and accordingly will promise themselves that this is last time. Loss of control patent will be visible over the long or short time. Even when episodes of losing control will repeat over a period of time, addict will make himself believe that he/she still has the power to refrain from addictive behaviour.  But the truth is that there is no way to gradually stop engaging in addictive behaviour by reducing the drug dose, and the only way is to stand firm and try to survive.

Furthermore, the Disease Model inspects the concept of craving which Jellinek (1960) characterises as an “urgent and overpowering desire”. This uncontrollable need drives and forces the individual to accomplish addictive behaviour. The driving forces of the thirst can exit and operate further than the emotion, overpower the addicted individual and strongly affect the emotion, control thought and overshadow all their actions. Disease Theory is confined to the fundamental observable facts of addiction. These powerful urges strip the addict of all aspiration and leave him/her concentrated on the hunt for the target of desire. In assumption of the Disease Model we can state that an addict’s reactions are compulsive and driven by obsession over drugs. As we observe in the Theory of Rational Choice, the individual had the ability to choose to engage in addictive behaviour whereas in disease theory there are no realistic choices but the pressure of the craving or desire to use the drug.

The last concept of the Disease Theory is self-cure which reflects the scrutiny that some addicts may discontinue to engage in addictive behaviour without evident complexity. Skog (2000) evaluates the Disease Model as deceptive because it implies that addicted individuals are able to be the spectator to their own addiction and the only way to stop this is by “physical restraint”. According to this model, addicts are able to make sudden decisions to stop the addictive behaviour without the developed desire to use the drug. Those brain defects, which were the primary cause of the urge, can all of a sudden regulate themselves or the addicted individual wasn’t addicted at the start.

This explanation can be perceived as unclear for many reasons. One of the reasons is that a heavy drug user cannot just get well and improve their function. It also does not address the fact that there can be distinctive differences between short term and long term users who engage in the activity much more regularly.

The centre of attention in this theory is directed towards the desire and compulsion whereas there are many other important aspects of addiction which are not covered by this theory. This theory does not adopt the subject of choice and individuality and is also does not address the differences between the processes of addiction which is individual for everyone.

The assumption of this model is that diverse issues build the addictive behaviour and make it more gratifying and self-discipline more sorrow.

Tackling addiction requires identification of the sources of imbalance at an individual or societal level and developing workable ways of restoring balance either by introducing countervailing motivations or reducing the strength, frequency or impact of maladaptive motivations.

Addiction is a diverse and complex field. Different aspects of addictive behaviour need to be understood in order to tackle addiction effectively.  In order to deal with addiction effectively, it is essential to identify the sources of imbalance at an individual or group level and develop practical ways to restore or correct the imbalance. This can be achieved in a number of ways such as by introducing countervailing motivations or reducing the strength, frequency or impact of maladaptive motivations.

As we have seen, different theories of addiction focus on different aspects of addictive behaviour. Each theory or model has advantages and disadvantages. Although no one theory accurately describes all aspects of addiction, a combined view of different theories can provide a good indication and explanation of most aspects of addictive behaviour.

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