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Four interpretations of addiction
Herrnstein and Prelec (1992) offer four interpretations of addiction:
Addiction as disease suggests that the addict literally cannot help themselves in the same way that a person with a disease cannot help becoming ill.
The opposite of this is addiction as choice, where the person makes conscious decisions to indulge in the behaviour that eventually becomes addictive. Even when addicted, they have choice in deciding to fight the addiction.
Although this is still prevalent in social conversation, modern addiction research has, to a large extent, discredited this 'disease' model.
This model views the addict as a rational consumer who chooses to partake of the addictive behavior from a position of constant free will.
The current view is that whilst consumption may start as a rational choice it gradually becomes less as the addict becomes attached to the target addictive substance.
There is also the question as to whether there is ever completely free will. Recent research has highlighted how the subconscious brain activates in a decision before the conscious brain.
This model interprets addiction as as an unknowing process whilst the person indulges in pleasant activities. The person slips gradually into dependence without realizing what is happening until it is too late.
This has as multiple-personality viewpoint where the 'addict' appears as a separate aspect of the self. It assumes that people hold inconsistent preferences, either concurrently or successively. This leads them to both seek rational behavior whilst also taking the irrational steps of an addict.
Herrnstein, R.J., and Prelec, D. (1992). “A theory of addiction,” in Choice Over Time, G.Loewenstein and J. Elster (eds.), New York: Russell Sage Press.