Theories of addiction: methamphetamine users' explanations for continuing drug use and relapse

Am J Addict. Jul-Aug 2009;18(4):294-300. doi: 10.1080/10550490902925920.


A variety of preclinical models have been constructed to emphasize unique aspects of addiction-like behavior. These include Negative Reinforcement ("Pain Avoidance"), Positive Reinforcement ("Pleasure Seeking"), Incentive Salience ("Craving"), Stimulus Response Learning ("Habits"), and Inhibitory Control Dysfunction ("Impulsivity"). We used a survey to better understand why methamphetamine-dependent research volunteers (N = 73) continue to use methamphetamine, or relapse to methamphetamine use after a period of cessation of use. All participants met DSM-IV criteria for methamphetamine abuse or dependence, and did not meet criteria for other current Axis I psychiatric disorders or dependence on other drugs of abuse, other than nicotine. The questionnaire consisted of a series of face-valid questions regarding drug use, which in this case referred to methamphetamine use. Examples of questions include: "Do you use drugs mostly to make bad feelings like boredom, loneliness, or apathy go away?", "Do you use drugs mostly because you want to get high?", "Do you use drugs mostly because of cravings?", "Do you find yourself getting ready to take drugs without thinking about it?", and "Do you impulsively take drugs?". The scale was anchored at 1 (not at all) and 7 (very much). For each question, the numbers of participants rating each question negatively (1 or 2), neither negatively or affirmatively (3-5), and affirmatively (6 or 7) were tabulated. The greatest number of respondents (56%) affirmed that they used drugs due to "pleasure seeking." The next highest categories selected were "impulsivity" (27%) and "habits"(25%). Surprisingly, many participants reported that "pain avoidance" (30%) and "craving" (30%) were not important for their drug use. Results from this study support the contention that methamphetamine users (and probably other drug users as well) are more heterogeneous than is often appreciated, and imply that treatment development might be more successful if treatments targeted subtypes of patients, though a range of limitations to the approach used are acknowledged.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine*
  • Motivation
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Recurrence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Methamphetamine