Reinforcer Pathology: Implications for Substance Abuse Intervention

Warren K. Bickel, Liqa N. Athamneh, Sarah E. Snider, William H. Craft, William B. DeHart, Brent A. Kaplan, Julia C. Basso

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The rate at which individuals discount future rewards (i.e., discounting rate) is strongly associated with their propensity for substance abuse as well as myriad other negative health behaviors. An excessive preference for immediately available rewards suggests a shortened time horizon in which immediate rewards are overvalued and future, potentially negative consequences are undervalued. This review outlines Reinforcer Pathology Theory (i.e., the interaction between excessive preference for immediately available rewards and the overvaluation of a particular commodity that offers brief, intense reinforcement), its neurobiological/behavioral underpinnings, and its implications for treating substance use disorders. In doing so, the current review provides an overview of a variety of ways in which interventions have been used to manipulate aspects of reinforcer pathology in an individual, including narrative theory, framing manipulations, and neuromodulation (e.g., working memory training, TMS) which may serve as promising avenues for the modulation of the temporal window and/or valuation of reinforcers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
ISSN (Print)1866-3370
ISSN (Electronic)1866-3389

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


  • Addiction
  • Behavioral economic demand
  • Delay discounting
  • Narrative theory
  • Reinforcer pathology
  • Temporal window
  • Valuation of rewards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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