Home > Relative expected value of drugs versus competing rewards underpins vulnerability to and recovery from addiction.

Hogarth, Lee and Field, Matt (2020) Relative expected value of drugs versus competing rewards underpins vulnerability to and recovery from addiction. Behavioural Brain Research, 394, 112815. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2020.112815.

External website: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...

Behavioural economic theories of addiction contend that greater expected value of drug relative to alternative non-drug rewards is the core mechanism underpinning vulnerability to and recovery from addiction. To evaluate this claim, we exhaustively review studies with human drug users that have measured concurrent choice between drugs vs. alternative rewards, and explored individual differences.

These studies show that drug choice can be modulated by drug cues, drug devaluation, imposition of costs/punishment and negative mood induction. Regarding individual differences, dependence severity was reliably associated with overall drug preference, and self-reported drug use to cope with negative affect was reliably associated with greater sensitivity to mood induced increases in drug choice. By contrast, there were no reliable individual differences in sensitivity to the effect of drug cues, drug devaluation or punishment on drug choice. These findings provide insight into the mechanisms that underpin vulnerability to dependence: vulnerability is conferred by greater relative value ascribed to drugs, and relative drug value is further augmented by negative affective states in those who report drug use coping motives. However, dependence does not appear to be characterised by abnormal cue-reactivity, habit learning or compulsion. We then briefly review emerging literature which demonstrates that therapeutic interventions and recovery from addiction might be attributed to changes in the expected relative value of drug versus alternative rewards. Finally, we outline a speculative computational account of the distortions in decision-making that precede action selection in addiction, and we explain how this account provides a blueprint for future research on the determinants of drug choice, and mechanisms of treatment and recovery from addiction.

We conclude that a unified economic decision-making account of addiction has great promise in reconciling diverse addiction theories, and neuropsychological evaluation of the underlying decision mechanisms is a fruitful area for future research and treatment.

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