Addictions: BBS Call for Commentators

Stevan Harnad (
Wed, 11 Oct 1995 21:44:05 +0100

This article has been accepted for publication in Behavioral and Brain
Sciences (BBS), an international, interdisciplinary journal providing
Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in
the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences.

Commentators must be current BBS Associates or nominated by a current
BBS Associate. To be considered as a commentator for this article, to
suggest other appropriate commentators, or for information about how to
become a BBS Associate, please send email to: or write to:

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Department of Psychology
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

To help us put together a balanced list of commentators, please give
some indication of the aspects of the topic on which you would bring
your areas of expertise to bear if you were selected as a commentator.
An electronic draft of the full text is available for inspection by
anonymous ftp (or gopher or world-wide-web) according to the
instructions that follow after the abstract.


Gene M. Heyman
Department of Psychology
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

KEYWORDS: Addiction, compulsive behavior, disease, incentive-
sensitization, reinforcement, rational choice, matching law

ABSTRACT: Research findings on addiction are contradictory.
According to biographical records and widely used diagnostic
manuals, addicts use drugs compulsively. These accounts are
consistent with genetic research and laboratory experiments in
which repeated administration of addictive drugs caused changes
in neural substrates associated with reward. However,
epidemiological and experimental data show that the
consequences of drug consumption can significantly modify drug
intake in addicts. The disease model can account for the
compulsive features of addiction, but not occasions in which
price and punishment reduced drug consumption in addicts.
Conversely, learning models of addiction can account for the
influence of price and punishment, but not compulsive drug
taking. The occasion for this paper is that recent developments
in behavioral choice theory resolve the apparent contradictions
in the addiction literature. The basic argument includes the
following four statements. First, repeated consumption of an
addictive drug decreases its future value and the future value
of competing activities. Second, the frequency of an activity
is a function of its relative (not absolute) value. This
implies that an activity that reduces the values of competing
behaviors can increase in frequency even if its own value also
declines. Third, a recent experiment (Heyman & Tanz, 1995)
shows that the effective reinforcement contingencies are
relative to a frame of reference, and this frame of reference
can change so as to favor optimal or sub-optimal choice.
Fourth, if the frame of reference is local, reinforcement
contingencies will favor excessive drug use, but if the frame
of reference is global, the reinforcement contingencies will
favor controlled drug use. The transition from a global to
local frame of reference explains relapse and other compulsive
features of addiction.

To help you decide whether you would be an appropriate commentator for
this article, an electronic draft is retrievable by anonymous ftp from according to the instructions below (the filename is
bbs.heyman). Please do not prepare a commentary on this draft.
Just let us know, after having inspected it, what relevant expertise
you feel you would bring to bear on what aspect of the article.
These files are also on the World Wide Web and the easiest way to
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yourlogin@yourhost.whatever.whatever - be sure to include the "@")
cd /pub/harnad/BBS
To show the available files, type:
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get bbs.heyman
When you have the file(s) you want, type:

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