Cognitive Models of Addiction


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The Self-Medication Model

Initiation: Individuals use an addictive behaviour to cope with stress/psychological problems. The addictive behaviour they choose is not random, they choose it because they believe it will help. e.g smoking to relax them or gambling because they may win big if in some sort of financial problem.

They use the behaviour to fulfil three major functions

  • Mood regulation
  • Performance management
  • As a distraction

Maintainance and Relapse:

They carry it on because they feel it helps them, for example a smoker uses it for stress relief and when they stop smoking the get stressed so they smoke again to relieve the stress.When they do relapse they get stressed again and so it continues.

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The Self-Medication Model Evaluation

Gottdiener et al (2008) did a meta-analysis of ten studies that focused on the main part of the model which was a loss of ego control, he found all the participants who where substance abusers had a loss of ego control.

There is a problem with cause and effect with this model though and it is also difficult to explain why a addictive behaviour has been initiated when no major psychological problems are present, however this could be argued as a matter of opinion as the level of which an event is stressful is subjective.

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Expectancy Theory

The individuals expectation of the outcome of the behaviour is thought to influence it, an addict will instantly see the positive rewards rather than a non addict looking at the negatives.

Initiation: A person will start an addictive behaviour if they have high expecations of the outcome, for example Heavy drinkers have been shown to have more positive expectations about the effect of alcohol compared to light drinkers.

Maintainance and Relapse: Brandon (2004) found that as an addiction develops it is less likely to be influenced by the consious expectations but more from unconsious expectations which is down to automatic processing.

This helps to explain the loss of control that many addicts experience and the difficulties they have when trying to quit as the problem starts to lie in the unconscious which is uncontrollable.

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Expectancy Theory Evaluation

Research done into this is a bit cloudy when it comes to determining whether a behaviour is an addiction or just exesive consumption.

Addicted is defined when somebody is unable to control their behaviour in which case it is difficult to establish where the role of the persons expectations come into it.

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Rational Choice Theory

Becker and Murphy (1998) suggested people choose to enage with an addictive behaviour after weighing up the costs and benifits

The model uses the concept of a 'Utility' which is a measurment of satisfaction, to calculate the Utility they must weigh up the costs and benifits.

People who engage in an addictive behaviour must percieve the benefits to outweigh the costs. Through this assumption we are therefore suggesting that the person makes a rational choice.


This however cannot fully apply to gambling as the costs outweigh the benefits, however this again is a subjective opinion as the 'rush' they get from gambling may be enough and it may not all be about the financial benefits.

It may be able to explain why some people are able to give up instantly as they realise the costs our exceeding the benefits.

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