Home > A contextualized reinforcer pathology approach to addiction.

Acuff, Samuel F and MacKillop, James and Murphy, James G (2023) A contextualized reinforcer pathology approach to addiction. Nature Reviews Psychology, 2, (5), pp. 309-323. doi: 10.1038/s44159-023-00167-y.

External website: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10028...

Behavioural economic accounts of addiction conceptualize harmful drug use as an operant reinforcer pathology, emphasizing that a drug is consumed because of overvaluation of smaller immediate rewards relative to larger delayed rewards (delay discounting) and high drug reinforcing value (drug demand). These motivational processes are within-individual determinants of behaviour. A third element of learning theory posits that harmful drug use depends on the relative constraints on access to other available activities and commodities in the choice context (alternative reinforcers), reflecting the substantial influence of environmental factors. In this Perspective, we integrate alternative reinforcers into the contemporary behavioural economic account of harmful drug use - the contextualized reinforcer pathology model - and review empirical literature across the translational spectrum in support of this model. Furthermore, we consider how increases in drug-related mortality and health disparities in addiction can be understood and potentially ameliorated via a contextualized reinforcer pathology model in which lack of alternative reinforcement is a major risk factor for addiction.

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