In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Addictive Behavior

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Demographics and Course
  • Key Symptoms
  • Consequences
  • Prevention and Harm Reduction

Psychology Addictive Behavior
Kenneth J. Sher, Alvaro Vergés
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0126


Historians and anthropologists have documented the existence of addictive behaviors across diverse societies from the beginning of recorded history. Thus, when we examine this topic, we should appreciate that we are looking at a phenomenon that has been a significant part of human experience for thousands of years. However, the scientific understanding of addiction and its effects is only a very recent achievement. Addictive behaviors, broadly defined to include both substance and nonsubstance addictions, are among the most common psychiatric conditions in the world. They are associated with a number of health and social negative consequences across the lifespan, which in turn lead to significant economic costs for society. Although impressive progress has been made regarding the conceptualization and etiology of addictive behaviors, their complexity remains puzzling for both researchers and clinicians. However, support for the efficacy of numerous preventive and treatment interventions has been accumulating in recent decades.

General Overviews

The works included in this section cover most areas relevant to the understanding of addictive behaviors and are written for different audiences. Erickson 2011 covers etiology, comorbidity, mechanisms of actions and effects of different drugs, and treatment, in a nontechnical style that makes it useful for a lay audience as well as specialists who want to better communicate research findings. Miller and Carroll 2006 covers conceptualization, intervention, and biological, psychological, and social factors that influence substance abuse. It is also written with a broad audience in mind and tries to derive useful principles from the complex and extensive scientific knowledge currently available. Frances, et al. 2005 covers the neurobiology, history and social context, assessment, epidemiology and mechanisms of action of different drugs, work with special populations, and several therapeutic approaches. Given its comprehensive coverage, it is a valuable reference for both general and specialist clinicians. Marlatt and Witkiewitz 2008 compiles a selection of some of the best papers published in recent years about addictive behaviors. It covers epidemiology, course, family dynamics, assessment, prevention, treatment, and specific populations, and it can be useful for students and professionals wanting to have a broad perspective on current research in the field. O’Brien 2011 provides an overview of addictions and substances of abuse with a main focus on psychopharmacology that can be useful for students and clinicians. Orford 2001 covers general information regarding several addictive behaviors, etiology and course, and intervention. It is a more theoretically cohesive work compared with other references in this section, and it could be easily included under Conceptualization or Etiology, but its breadth of coverage and its inclusion of nonsubstance-addictive behaviors make it a valuable general reference for clinicians and researchers. In addition, two useful websites are included in this section. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) website includes information for researchers, clinicians, and the general public on alcohol research. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website includes resources for professionals, parents, researchers, students, and teachers on several types of illicit drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco.

  • Erickson, Carlton K. 2011. Addiction essentials: The go-to guide for clinicians and patients. New York: W. W. Norton.

    This book presents complex ideas in easy to follow language without losing accuracy. It includes patients’ overview at the beginning of each chapter and an appendix with useful resources for readers.

  • Frances, Richard J., Sheldon I. Miller, and Avram H. Mack, eds. 2005. Clinical textbook of addictive disorders. 3d ed. New York: Guilford.

    Originally published in 1991, this is a complete reference for clinicians wanting to know more about addictions. It includes topics that are usually not covered in textbooks, particularly in the section on special populations.

  • Marlatt, G. Alan, and Katie Witkiewitz. 2008. Addictive behaviors: New readings on etiology, prevention, and treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    This is a selection of recent published papers in the field of addictive behaviors. It can be used as a textbook for a graduate class on the topic. Some of the papers are included in the current bibliography.

  • Miller, William R., and Kathleen M. Carroll, eds. 2006. Rethinking substance abuse: What the science shows, and what we should do about it. New York: Guilford.

    This is an original effort at summarizing what is known from scientific research about substance abuse and deriving insights regarding intervention and policy. Written for a broad audience, each chapter ends with a set of robust principles and suggested readings.

  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

    This website includes information about alcohol-related consequences and alcohol use disorders. It provides useful fact sheets, presentations, and classroom resources, as well as open access to the journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. It also includes publications in Spanish.

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

    This website includes information about drugs of abuse and related topics such as addiction science, criminal justice and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, medical consequences of drug abuse, prevention research, and treatment research. The website is also available in Spanish.

  • O’Brien, Charles P. 2011. Drug addiction. In Goodman and Gilman’s: The pharmacological basis of therapeutics. 12th ed. Edited by Laurence Brunton, Bruce Chabner, and Bjorn Knollman, 649–668. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    This chapter is particularly strong in its presentation of the pharmacology of several categories of drugs. It also covers etiology and intervention.

  • Orford, Jim. 2001. Excessive appetites: A psychological view of addictions. West Sussex, UK: Wiley.

    This book presents a social-behavioral-cognitive-moral model of addictive behaviors, characterized as excessive appetites derived from an over-attachment to drugs, objects, or activities. The model attempts to capture the process by which an excessive appetite is developed as well as the process by which individuals can change and recover.

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