The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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2.2.3 AUD and relieving the stresses of life

Not all explanations for AUD are physiological (e.g. dopamine and the PFC). Many different psychological explanations have been proposed, some of which link to physiological factors. One theory that proposes a psychological explanation for addictions like AUD is known as the adaptive orientation model of addiction. Originally developed to explain opiate addiction, this model proposes that some people develop addictive behaviours because they are attempting to compensate for the stresses and strains of everyday life. In other words, some people go on to drink alcohol excessively and chronically because they are using alcohol as a form of self-medication.

The adaptive orientation model of addiction suggests that alcohol consumption compensates for stresses in their life. This is a psychological explanation of AUD because it concerns the cognitive process of making the decision to consume alcohol. According to this model, even though addictive behaviours like excessive and chronic alcohol consumption have negative effects on an individual, the beneficial effects of relieving the stresses and strains of everyday life are perceived to outweigh the negatives, so the individual makes the choice to drink. This is a highly contentious issue as some researchers think this suggests that some people choose to have an addiction.

Another problem with this model of addiction is that the ultimate negative effect of chronic alcohol use – death – should outweigh the relief of stress. Yet many people do continue to drink knowing that they are risking death by doing so.

You might have your own opinions about this psychological explanation for addictions like AUD, but a lot of research has shown that individuals are generally not very good at recognising the harmful long-term effects of behaviours that bring immediate rewards.

  • Can you think of any other addictive activities in which long term effects are overlooked for short term rewards?

  • One other activity you may have thought of is cigarette or cigar smoking. Illicit drug use could also be considered.

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