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Understanding the nature of motivation Term Paper

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Updated: Jan 11th, 2020


The paper dwells on motivation for addiction. A literature review reveals that most people will be inclined towards drug taking because of environmental factors like availability, genetic predispositions, developmental factors such as adolescence, personality components such as prevalence of psychotic traits like impulsivity, adaptations of the neurobiological system and its mechanisms as well.

Adaptations occur when conditioning of the external stimuli arises. The gap in literature review found that most papers did not link motivation for drug use with preventive outcomes. A multimodal approach to drug treatment and prevention has been proposed so as to offer more successful and accurate drug programs.


Addiction is defined as the propensity to indulge in strange and even destructive behavior; addicts will often lack the ability to control their habit and may continue to indulge in it even with external intervention.

Several studies have been carried out in the field of drug addiction to find out what motivates users to continue taking drugs. A literature review in this area reveals that almost all motivation falls in these six categories: genetic, environmental, neurobiological mechanisms, neurobiological adaptation, personality and developmental factors.

Most studies tend to focus on assessment of one or more of these factors but very few have found a way of relating these motivations to prevention and treatment programs thus minimizing the usefulness of their researches.

The present study will look at current findings in the field of addiction motivation and will eventually provide recommendations on how these findings can be translated into tangible prevention outcomes. In other words, the main purpose of this research is to suggest a multi – modal approach that will link motivation for drug taking to tangible prevention outcomes.

Experimental evidence

Most analyses focus on collection of literature, analysis of drug addicts or experimentation with lab animals in order to unravel the nature of addiction. Crowley (1972) carried out a comprehensive study of addiction through the use of secondary literature and theoretical frameworks.

He found that drug reinforcers can either be primary or secondary in that they either cause the effect of the drug directly or they lead to an effect that comes to be associated with the drug. Secondary reinforcers may either be positive or negative. He suggested that a negative secondary reinforcement was one that was learned or conditioned.

In other words, if an addict experienced his or her first withdrawal effects in his parent’s house then chances are that the person would get the same feelings in his parent’s house even if he was not going through a withdrawal and this is called negative secondary reinforcement. Alternatively, conditioning or secondary reinforcement may also be positive in that it can be associated with particular peers.

Although Crowley (1972) called these conditional motivators secondary reinforcement, other researchers have given them a more scientific name known as neurobiological adaptation.

Examples here include Volkow & Wise (2005) & Robbins and Everitt (1999). These authors explained that decisions to take drugs were associated with the concept of reward and motivation. In other words, the neurobilogical system through a neurotransmitter known as dopamine has the capacity to create a positive reinforcement in the drug addict.

Evidence of this assertion was confirmed by Robbins and Everitt (1999) who studied behavior in rats and found that they would self administer drugs using a level system if dopamine was active and when the neurotransmitter was inactivated, no self administration of cocaine would take place. Usually, that part of the brain is responsible for learned responses such as memory.

Consequently, it can be said that the drug seeker is looking for the same reward that the drug accords him or her and this leads him to continual use. Conditioned stimuli (situations that are associated with drug taking that produce desirable outcomes but are not from the drug itself) have the capacity to cause relapses because they activate the dopamine neurological system. These researches have therefore illustrated that neurobiological adaptation is another important motivation for drug use

It should be noted that neural biological adaptations are different from neurobiological mechanisms as another motivation for drug use. Neurobiological mechanisms basically refer to alterations in the biology of the drug user upon consumption. When drugs get into the system, they trigger a certain section of the brain which is responsible for stimulation and this leads to the development of a pleasurable feeling. In other words, this is the reward that many drug seekers tend to look for.

Robbins and Everitt (1999) explain that drugs often create neural side effects that lead the addict to action every time they require it. This was the primary positive reinforcement that Crowley (1972) was talking about. A certain sensation causes most of these drug takers to move from one component to the other.

Environmental factors are also an important motivation for drug use and relapse for those who are abstaining from the habit. Siege et. al. (2000) explain that increase in drug taking is associated with the continual availability of drugs. This explains why use of certain hard drugs is common in the ghettos. This was affirmed through self administration of drugs by rats. Stress also makes drug users susceptible to drug use.

Baker et. al (2004) explain that most drug addicts tend to avoid stressful states and this implies that environmental factors are a case of negative reinforcement. Goeders (2004) adds that stress causes addiction because it reminds a section of the brain called the HPT that the drugs can avert the negative feelings. Consequently, a drug user who had gone through prolonged periods of abstinence may relapse when too much stress occurs.

Developmental factors also make drug users predisposed to the use of drugs. It has been shown that drug use often begins at the adolescent age. Volkow and Wise (2005) affirm that changes in delayed developments of a certain section of the brain known as the prefrontal context leads to greater risk taking behavior. Adolescents have not yet developed this part of the brain so most may be impulsive or maybe likely to get involved in drugs without really thinking about the long term consequences of it.

Lastly, Eysenk (1999) illustrated that there is a relationship between the personality of an individual and that person’s propensity for drugs. It has been illustrated that drugs do play a resource function. In other words, if an individual has a certain personality deficiency such as too much introversion, then that person is likely to seek out drugs which will cause him to be more talkative and uninhibited. Personality also acts as a motivator owing to the prevalence of psychotic functions of the addict.

Eysenk (1999) carried out an analysis of various individuals and found that most users tended to be impulsive, impersonal, aggressive, cold and egocentric. These were all behavior traits synonymous to the psychotic personality so this is an important motivator.

Genetic predispositions also lead to drug use as asserted by Nestler (2000) who found that particular variations in rats tend to affect susceptibility to drugs thus showing that genes had a mediating effect. Nonetheless, the particular genes were not found as a complex combination of them could lead to vulnerability to addiction.

Implications of the experimental evidence

The revelation that drug use is associated with developmental factors illustrates that adolescents can be specifically targeted during preventive measures since they are likely to begin drug taking without thinking about the consequences. The findings that neurobiological mechanisms lead to the start and continual use of drugs imply that a substitute for similar responses maybe used in earlier phases of drug treatment.

Also, findings that link drug use to environmental factors like stress imply that dealing with stress can be an effective way of curbing this. Personality factors imply that certain individuals just tend to be more impulsive. This component can be used in treatment programs by providing immediate rewards as it would resonate with the drug user. Conditioned behavior therefore illustrates that there are indeed certain triggers which can be eradicated during treatment.

Limitations of the findings

Most of the researches did not link their findings to practical implications. In other words, few tangible solutions were given to the use of these motivators as preventative or treatment techniques. Essentially, most of the studies were inquiring about drug motivation but they did not offer answers to this pressing problem.

Future directions

In the future, it will be appropriate to link these motivational factors to treatment or preventive outcomes. A multimodal approach would be the best bet because not only would it ensure that drug treatments are patient centered but it would also increase the accuracy of interventions because specific motivators or reinforcers will be neutralized.

For instance, if it has been found that personality was one of the motivators of drug use through impulsivity then short term rewards can be introduced into the program. Also, if availability of drugs is found to be the problem then patients may either be removed from their environments or closely monitored through peer groups.


It has been found that motivation for drug use can be subdivided into six sections which include genetic predisposition, developmental factors, neurobiological mechanisms, neurobiological adaptations, personality and environmental factors. Most of the literature has not linked these findings to treatment programs to be used by drug users yet problems tend to be solved only after relating them to their initial causes.

All or any of these factors may have led a person to addiction so treatment methods need to relate to those motivations (no matter how many they are). This piece therefore suggests future research in the development of multimodal approaches to drug treatment and prevention depending on the risk factors and the motivations for drug use.


Baker, T., Piper, M., McCarthy, D., Fire, M. & Majeskie, M. (2004). Addiction motivation reformulated: an affective processing model of negative reinforcement. Psychological review, 111(1), 33-51

Chambers, A., Taylor, J., & Potenza, M. (2003). Developmental neurocircuitry of motivation in adolescence: a critical period of addiction vulnerability. American Journal of psychiatry, 160, 1041-152

Crowley, T. (1972). The reinforcers for drug abuse: why people take drugs. Comprehensive psychiatry, 13(1), 51-63

Eysenck, H. (1997). Addiction, personality and motivation. Human psychopharmacology, 12,S79-87

Goeders, N. (2004). Stress, motivation and drug addiction. Current directions in psychological science, 13(1), 33-36

Nestler, E. (2000). Genes and addiction. Nature, 26, 277-282

Robbins, T. & Everitt, B. (1999). Drug addiction: bad habits add up. Nature, 398(15), 567-601

Serge, A., Walker, J., Koob., G. (2000). Heroin in rats with a history of drug escalation. Neuropychopharmacology, 22(10), 413-421

Volkow, N. & Wise, R. (2005). How can drug addiction help us understand obesity? Nature Neuroscience, 8(5), 555-561

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