The Cognitive Approach to Addiction

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  • Emphasises habitual ways of thinking and interpreting events
  • Addiction does not depend on the properties of the drug/activity but on the addicts reasons (underlying thoughts for taking it)

Initiation: AO1

Expectation: Belief about what the addiction will do for the person

  • Addiction is self-medication - addicts believe they will solve a specific problem
  • The benefits of the activity are over estimated and people are more likely to become addicted if they have cognitive biases which minimise the negative consequences of the behaviour
  • Addicts often high levels of impulsivity

    o   Placing a higher priority on the present excitement rather than on future consequences (cognitive myopia)

Maintenance: AO1

  • Cognitive biases which emphasise the positive aspects of the behaviour and minimise the negative consequences
  • Addicts have expectancies that abstinence from the addictive behaviour will lead to negative consequences which means that they will continue
  • Addicts also have a high sense of self-efficacy, believing that they are in control of their addictive behaviour and would be able to give up if they wanted to

Relapse: AO1

  • A person gives up an addiction... - Increased sensation of self-efficacy
  • High risk emotional states, situation or events can pose threat to the persons sense of control and lead to a relapse. Particularly if the person believes giving up the addiction has negative consequences

Relapse can be minimised by understanding:

  • The persons beliefs about what constitutes high risk situations
  • Enhancing the persons skills for coping with these situation
  • Increasing their self-efficacy
  • Changing beliefs about the relapse process 


Application to smoking:


  • People who start smoking have expectancies that smoking will have positive effects on their lives. For example, stress reduction, weight loss or improved mood
  • Cognitive biases minimise the negative effects of smoking

Brandon and Baker (1991): carried out a questionnaire study of psychology students. There is evidence that people start smoking…


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