A pilot study of loss aversion for drug and non-drug commodities in cocaine users

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background Numerous studies in behavioral economics have demonstrated that individuals are more sensitive to the prospect of a loss than a gain (i.e., loss aversion). Although loss aversion has been well described in “healthy” populations, little research exists in individuals with substance use disorders. This gap is notable considering the prominent role that choice and decision-making play in drug use. The purpose of this pilot study was to evaluate loss aversion in active cocaine users. Methods Current cocaine users (N = 38; 42% female) participated in this within-subjects laboratory pilot study. Subjects completed a battery of tasks designed to assess loss aversion for drug and non-drug commodities under varying risk conditions. Standardized loss aversion coefficients (λ) were compared to theoretically and empirically relevant normative values (i.e., λ = 2). Results Compared to normative loss aversion coefficient values, a precise and consistent decrease in loss aversion was observed in cocaine users (sample λ ≈ 1). These values were observed across drug and non-drug commodities as well as under certain and risky conditions. Conclusions These data represent the first systematic study of loss aversion in cocaine-using populations and provide evidence for equal sensitivity to losses and gains or loss equivalence. Futures studies should evaluate the specificity of these effects to a history of cocaine use as well as the impact of manipulations of loss aversion on drug use to determine how this phenomenon may contribute to intervention development efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-226
Number of pages4
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grant number R21 DA035376 (WWS) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and grant number 1247392 (JCS) from the National Science Foundation . These funding sources had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, or preparation and submission of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Behavioral economics
  • Drug
  • Gamble
  • Prospect theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'A pilot study of loss aversion for drug and non-drug commodities in cocaine users'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this