The behavioral economics of substance use disorders: Reinforcement pathologies and their repair

Warren K. Bickel, Matthew W. Johnson, Mikhail N. Koffarnus, James MacKillop, James G. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

459 Scopus citations


The field of behavioral economics has made important inroads into the understanding of substance use disorders through the concept of reorcer pathology. Reorcer pathology refers to the joint effects of (a) the persistently high valuation of a reorcer, broadly defined to include tangible commodities and experiences, and/or (b) the excessive preference for the immediate acquisition or consumption of a commodity despite long-term negative outcomes. From this perspective, reorcer pathology results from the recursive interactions of endogenous person-level variables and exogenous environment-level factors. The current review describes the basic principles of behavioral economics that are central to reorcer pathology, the processes that engender reorcer pathology, and the approaches and procedures that can repair reorcement pathologies. The overall goal of this review is to present a new understanding of substance use disorders as viewed by recent advances in behavioral economics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)641-677
Number of pages37
JournalAnnual Review of Clinical Psychology
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Addiction
  • Behavior economics
  • Discounting
  • Elasticity of demand
  • Reinforcer pathology
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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