Volume 115, Issue 11, November 2018
Addiction and Fallibility
There is an ongoing debate about loss of control in addiction: Some theorists say at least some addicts’ drug-directed desires are irresistible, while others insist that pursuing drugs is a choice. The debate is long-standing and has essentially reached a stalemate. This essay suggests a way forward. I propose an alternative model of loss of control in addiction, one based not on irresistibility, but rather fallibility. According to the model, on every occasion of use, self-control processes exhibit a low, but non-zero, rate of failure due to error. When these processes confront highly recurrent drug-directed desires, the cumulative probability of a self-control lapse steadily grows. The model shows why the following statement—which has an air of paradox—can in fact be true: Each drug-directed desire the addict faces is fully resistible, but the addict nonetheless has significantly diminished control over eventually giving in.