Recovery From Addiction: Behavioral Economics and Value-Based Decision Making


Behavioral economics provides a general framework to explain the shift in behavioral allocation from substance use to substance-free activities that characterizes recovery from addiction, but it does not attempt to explain the internal processes that prompt those behavioral changes. In this article we outline a novel analysis of addiction recovery based on computational work on value-based decision making (VBDM), which can explain how people with addiction are able to overcome the reinforcement pathologies and decision-making vulnerabilities that characterize the disorder. The central tenet of this account is that shifts in molar reinforcer preferences over time from substance use to substance-free activities can be attributed to changes in evidence accumulation rates and response thresholds in the context of choices involving substance use and substance-free alternatives. We discuss how this account can be reconciled with the established mechanisms of action of psychosocial interventions for addiction and demonstrate how it has the potential to empirically address longstanding debates regarding the nature of impairments to self-control in addiction. We also highlight conceptual and methodological issues that require careful consideration in translating VBDM to addiction and recovery.

Publication Title

Psychology of Addictive Behaviors