Cognitive models of addiction

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  • Cognitive Models of Addiction
    • The self-medication model
      • The model proposes that individuals intentionally use drugs to treat psychological symptoms from which they suffer. The particular drug an individual uses is not selected at random, they select a drug that is perceived to help them with their particular problem. Therefore, initiation of drug use depends on the specific effect that an individual desires. The individual also needs to believe the drug helps their symptoms in order for an addiction to develop.
    • Maintenance and relapse
      • People who engage in potentially self-destructive activities, such as addictive behaviours have impaired control over their own actions. They often want to stop drug taking, smoking etc. but they seem unable to do so. One explanation for why people behave in this irrational way is due to faulty thinking when weighing up the consequences of their actions. Ainslie (1992) has suggested that people are perfectly capable of weighing up pros and cons but they attach too much emphasis to the immediate gratification of smoking at that time. This is known as cognitive myopia.
    • The cognitive processing model
      • When we walk home, talk to a friend, make a cup of tea, etc. we pay little attention to what we are actually doing in order to carry out these tasks. They have become so practised that we do them automatically. Tiffany (1990) suggests that addictive behaviours are maintained through automatic processing. This suggests that smoking etc. becomes automatic.
    • Applying cognitive models to gambling.
      • Despite the fact that the odds of almost all activities in gambling are weighed in favour of the operator, gamblers continue to try and win money believing they can. This observation leads to the conclusion that gambling may be maintained by irrational beliefs. They believe they can predict the outcomes. This is known as the gamblers fallacy.
    • Evaluation
      • There are many instances of people engaged in exactly the same behaviour but addiction is only present in some cases. Cognitive explanations help to account for these individual differences while engaged in the activity, e.g. during the maintenance stage developing faulty cognitions
      • Cognitive models suggest that it is faulty thought processes that cause individuals to develop and maintain addictions. The problem is that it is not clear what causes these faulty thought processes to develop in the first place. Also it is not entirely clear what causes the faulty thinking in the first place. It could be the faulty thinking is an effect of the addiction.
      • As is common in scientific research, the focus of research into cognitive models has largely been on the positive research findings, with negative results receiving far less attention. Many studies have supported an association between cognitions and drug-taking behaviour. However, this could constitute a publication bias.
      • Griffiths (1994) set out to discover whether regular gamblers thought and behaved differently to non-regular gamblers. He compared the former to the latter in terms of their verbalisations as they played a fruit machine. Regular gamblers believed they were more skillful than they were, and were more likely to make irrational comments during play. They tended to treat the machine as if it was a person. Regular gamblers explained their losses as near wins.
      • The self-medication model argues that some form of psychological distress must precede drug use. However, in some cases, individuals develop an addiction in the absence of any psychological problems. The self-medication model cannot explain why this happens. It could be psychological symptoms develop after the addiction begins.


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