Research on the Phenomenon and Treatment of Addiction: a Multi-Disciplinary Perspective

Michal Ann Strahilevitz, University Of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
[ to cite ]:
Michal Ann Strahilevitz (1994) ,"Research on the Phenomenon and Treatment of Addiction: a Multi-Disciplinary Perspective", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 233.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Page 233


Michal Ann Strahilevitz, University Of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects examined in the consumer behavior literature is that of addiction. One of the reasons for the controversy may very well be the vast number of disciplines that have studied this topic. The purpose of this session was to present research on the topic of addiction from a variety of perspectives. Our panel included individuals with real world experience in the treatment of addiction as well as prominent researchers from a variety of disciplines (i.e., psychology, anthropology, and economics).

The first paper, presented by Drazen Prelec, discussed work he had done in collaboration with Richard Herrnstein, George Loewenstein, and William Vaughan. Several theories of addiction were discussed including addiction as a disease, addiction as self medication, the primrose path, and the theory of the divided self. The paper focused on the economic aspects of addiction and examined various diagnostic criteria for identifying potentially addictive commodities. By using learning experiments in a lab setting, the authors illustrated how subjects can be "lured" into making inferior choice patterns evocative of addiction. Based on the results, three diagnostic criteria for identifying commodities that are potentially addictive were inferred: (1) rate dependence (the value per single act of consumption interacts with the frequency of consumption), (2) side-effects (the commodity changes the satisfaction derived from other commodities), and (3) temporal bipolarity (the benefits of the activity are more immediate than its costs).

The second paper, by Michal Strahilevitz, focused on differences and similarities in the experiences and recovery processes of various addictions (i.e., drug addiction, alcoholism, and eating disorders). Based on interpretive material which included interviews with recovering addicts, this paper explored not only the addicts' experiences when engaging in their addictive behaviors, but their experiences when abstaining as well. Themes discussed included: (1) the role of "rock bottom" stories as reference points which stress the loss side of engaging in one's addiction, (2) the fact that many recovering addicts do not consider moderation to be an option, making the decision of how much to consume analogous to a binary choice task (abstain or self destruct), (3) the possibility that the sequential choice process for an addict may be quite different from that of a non-addict (i.e., many alcoholics/drug addicts/compulsive eaters report that saying no to the first drink/hit/bite is much easier than saying no to the second one), and (4) the role of support groups in both adding value to one's abstinence, and creating a sense of community.

The third author, John Sherry, discussed the treatment of alcohol and drug abuse problems from a social systems perspective. Sherry advocated taking a holistic approach to examining chemical dependency. Such an approach requires looking not only at the addict, but also at other structural stakeholders such as the addict's family, peer group, place of employment, treatment agency and voluntary associations, as well as the linkages between (and within) these institutions. Sherry encouraged the use of anthropological methods in studying the treatment of addiction and suggested that the researcher take on the role of "information broker," working in partnership with community psychologists and other key informants. Building on his own experience as a clinician in centers for the treatment of chemical dependency, he discussed some of the problems encountered in the medical world in dealing with alcohol and drug abuse. He illustrated how concepts such as marketing mix, benefit delivery, and segmentation could be directly applied to improving the service delivery in the treatment of chemical dependency.

Finally, Beth Hirschman (our discussant) shared her own insights on this topic, stressing the importance of further work in this area and reminding us that addictions are common among all classes and walks of life.