Explaining Addiction: How Far Does the Reward Account of Motivation Take Us?

Jeanette Kennett*, Doug McConnell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Choice theorists such as George Ainslie and Gene Heyman argue that the drug-seeking behaviour of addicts is best understood in the same terms that explain everyday choices. Everyday choices, they claim, aim to maximise the reward from available incentives. Continuing drug-use is, therefore, what addicts most want given the incentives they are aware of but they will change their behaviour if and when better incentives become available. This model might explain many typical cases of addiction, but there are hard cases that pose a problem. In these hard cases the addicted individual does not cease using drugs in the face of consequences that are so adverse it is implausible that they are unaware of more rewarding paths of action. These cases force the choice theorist into a dilemma: either these addicts' drug use does not count as action and so is best described by a neurobiological model, or reference to 'reward' in these cases means merely 'motivated' and so provides no explanatory power. We propose a different model of motivation that takes self-conception into account. We show how that can better explain the hard cases of addiction and also inform our understanding of recovery and self-control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-489
Number of pages20
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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