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Is addiction an Automatic Brain Disease or a Voluntary Value-Based Choice?

Published by at January 23rd, 2024 , Revised On February 5, 2024

Reflective Paper

This paper has discussed an extensive overview to discuss whether addiction is an automatic brain disease or a voluntary value-based choice. Here I want to discuss my perspective of whether addiction is an automatic brain disease or a voluntary value based choice. 

Researchers who study addiction are best served by focusing on two key questions: ‘What is the nature of the impairment?’ and “How is it acquired?” Questions involving administration, therapy, the legislation, as well as social and philosophical issues, will be addressed.

All of these issues may be addressed without first determining if addiction is a disease, with the exception of those pertaining to public health expenditures and insurance, which must be addressed first. 

Addiction, I feel, is an illness that must be treated. When someone is addicted, they experience a specific form of impairment to the decision-making mechanisms in their minds and bodies. A person’s connection with their drug is what causes it; no other psychological, social, or physical state can explain for it.

Similar to a software flaw in a chess-playing computer, it forces the computer to prioritize removing its opponent’s pawns above all other aims in order to accomplish this goal. Its value for that objective rises as it becomes more successful, and the more computing resources it devotes to it, the higher its value for that goal rises as well. 

The brain’s reward and learning pathways may be rewired such that substance use becomes a habit after repeated exposure. An addiction to drugs or alcohol may develop when a person’s habitual use of substances spirals out of control.

There is a similarity between changing that instinctive reaction and changing our habit of crossing the street: intentional action (deciding to do something about it) and continuing training. Finally, the brain would restructure itself and develop a new, healthier instinctive reaction (Jaffe, 2015). 

More than cost aversion, increased drug value explains animal perseverance in penalized drug seeking. Additionally, human research suggests that the tendency to reduce drug-seeking costs is proportional to the degree of reliance.

Rather than habit or compulsion, increased goal-oriented drug choice under bad affect drives human addiction. Addiction is harmful because bad emotions boost predictable drug value, offsetting possible abstinence goals. 

The paper also stated that for the last 20 years, everybody’s official doctrine has been the “disease idea,” with medical organizations, addicts themselves, and well-meaning individuals advocating on their account all asking governments and corporations to embrace and act on its consequences. 

Much of our study is founded on the premise that there is some crucial distinction, whether in their neurological make-up or in the way they metabolize ethanol, among those who would become addicts and the rest of us. 

According to the habit theory of addiction (Dickinson et al., 2002), repetitive experience of drug reward gradually strengthens the stimulus-response (SR) association between drug stimuli and drug-seeking reactions to the point where drug stimuli are able to elicit drug-seeking immediately, without the need for an assumption of the drug and its current worth.

Drug seeking becomes less responsive to cognitive control and decision-making as a result of these developments (Everitt BJ, 2016). The actual result and two-stage methods are the most important forms of evidence supporting the habit explanation, according to the researchers. 

To understand why drug abusers, persist to take drugs knowing the risk, the study discussed scientific and clinical theories. This study reviews proof for three distinctive hypotheses of addiction: goal-oriented choice under pessimistic affect, habit, and compulsion.

To put these three ideas in perspective, a brief overview of addiction theory follows. While euphoric drug advantages maintain early consumption, the painful withdrawal symptoms stimulate long-term drug use. 

Mental difficulties that develop after withdrawal are the key incentive for self-medication ideas. However, it is unknown which factor of withdrawal is the most significant, how this connects with mental disorders, and if unpleasant feelings induce drug-seeking directly or via value-based strategic planning. This research supports goal-directed decision under negative emotion. 

Persistent drug use is reinforced by positive reinforcement despite withdrawal symptoms. They can’t explain why people keep using drugs even when they think they’re useless. To resolve this paradox, many secondary mechanisms have been proposed. 

As a result of this, drug cues may illicit drug seeking, and reaction to this influence may promote overreliance along the connectedness (and hence higher utility) of the drug in the face of hazardous prompts.

This approach does not explain addiction in people since drug cue responsiveness is not connected to reliance severity. In other words, positive reinforcement teaches us that drug-seeking behavior becomes habitual. 

Illicit drug seeking is defined as occurring “instantaneously” in the sense that it is not determined by craving, “habitually” in the context that it is not defined by an assumption of the drug’s present value, or “habitually” in the sense that the costs linked with taking drugs are diminished and have no impact on the conduct. 

Addiction is generally caused by high goal-directed drug choice with negative affect, rather than habit or compulsion, according to the study’s overall finding. Contrary to the popular belief that a person’s bad state of mind immediately primes them to seek out drugs, this finding is consistent with other negative-reinforcement theories of addiction (Hogarth L, 2018).

Not because it’s automatic, but because negative states such as anxiety, depression, and other stressors push up the expected drug value to the point where it overrides other goals like a stable job, abstinence from other drugs, and a healthy family and community, leading to a relapse in drug use despite expressed wishes to the contrary (Hogarth et al., 2015).


Dickinson et al., W. N. (2002). Alcohol seeking by rats: action or habit? Q J Exp Psychol B, 331-48. 

Everitt BJ, R. T. (2016). Drug addiction: updating actions to habits to compulsions ten years on. Annu Rev Psychol. , 23-50. 

Hogarth et al., H. Z. (2015). Negative mood reverses devaluation of goal-directed drug-seeking favouring an incentive learning account of drug dependence. Psychopharmacology, 3235-47. 

Hogarth L, H. L. (2018). Depressive statements prime goal-directed alcohol-seeking in individuals who report drinking to cope with negative affect. Psychopharmacology, 269–79. 

Jaffe, A. (2015, 09 22). Is Addiction a Habit or a Choice? Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201509/is-addiction-habit-or-choice.

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