The Lonely Addict
Howard Rachlin State University of New Yorkat Stony Brook
This chapter describes and discusses relative addiction theory. Relative addiction theory is part of behavioral economics in that it relies on processes of behavioral allocation, such as melioration ( Herrnstein & Vaughan, 1980) and economic maximization ( Rachlin, Battalio, Kagel, & Green, 1981), rather than on internal physiological or cognitive mechanisms. The main assertion of relative addiction theory is that social support--the benefit obtained from social activity--is crucial to the behavioral processes that lead to addiction. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous that stress social support generally believe it to be ancillary to the operation of some more fundamental process (physiological, cognitive, behavioral, or spiritual). Relative addiction theory, on the other hand, places social support and its lack at the center of the addiction process. It says that addicts are addicts because they are lonely. Distinctive properties of social support--the way it contributes to present and future utility--may act along with substance consumption to cause addiction. However, before discussing how social activity and substance consumption interact to cause addiction, it is necessary to specify the operative behavioral dynamics.
In calculating utility, economic theory assumes first that a consumer's time horizon is infinite. When a choice is made, all known consequences, no matter how far in the future they may be, are assumed to be taken into