Motivation is generally described as the force that drives us to pursue a goal. Where does this feeling of resolve come from? The answer is the overall benefit of a goal pursuit, to which two factors contribute—the subjective value of the goal pursuit, and the perceived likelihood of a successful goal pursuit (Value*Likelihood). In other words, the strength of people’s commitment to something depends on its value to them and the chance that the value will, in fact, occur.
Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. is an associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield with a Ph.D. in Managerial Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He specializes in the Health Economics of addiction and obesity, applying the insights and findings that emerge from behavioral economics research to the decision processes underlying addictive behavior, obesity, and weight loss management. His most recent book is Eating Behavior and Obesity: Behavioral Economics Strategies for Health Professionals. He is currently working on a new book, Addiction: A Behavioral Economics Perspective, to be published by Routledge/Psychology Press.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
The relationship between these two factors is multiplicative (Value*Likelihood). This means that there will be no motivation to the goal pursuit if the value of the goal is zero, no matter how high the likelihood of success. Similarly, there will be no motivation if the expected chance is quite low.
The goal of using drugs is formed in the same way as any other goal. It is determined largely by, first, the value that the person places on drugs and, second, the person’s expected chances of being able to get the desired benefits from their use. This view can be applied to explain the reasons why people decide to drink. The decision to drink alcohol will depend on the value that the person attributes to drinking alcohol (i.e., to elevate positive mood, alleviate negative mood and anxiety, or increase confidence) and the person’s expectation that these outcomes will actually happen.
Let's consider several factors that are likely to lead to an increased motivation to consume alcohol. These factors influence values (i.e., anticipated emotions) and expectancies.
1. Past experiences
Past experiences with alcohol help to shape people’s current value and the expectations that they place on drinking alcohol. Alcohol users may recall their previous positive experiences with alcohol, and this may increase their motivation to drink. A negative experience will do the opposite. The experience of alcohol flush reactions (e.g., body flushes and nausea) after ingestion negatively affects the value of drinking alcohol. The flush reaction is more common in Asian populations, but can occur among other groups as well. People with this reaction experience drinking alcohol as less pleasurable than others do, and they have lower drinking rates.
2. Impulsive personality
Impulsive individuals consistently choose rewards that are immediately available, despite the negative future consequences of those choices. They will value drugs (or alcohol) because of their rewarding properties. Heavy drinkers are more impulsive than light drinkers and, consequently, use more alcohol.
People experiencing aversive psychological symptoms value drinking alcohol, because it helps to alleviate their negative feelings. The drinking removes, at least temporarily, the stress of anxiety.
4. Social norm
From a motivational perspective, social norms affect the value that individuals place on drug use. Social norms are the behavioral expectations within a community. For example, in many western societies, alcohol is used at specific events and regular times (e.g., Friday evening after work). Such a norm limits and controls the use. For example, students drink more on campuses that have a strong drinking culture.
Exposure to alcohol-related cues increases the craving for alcohol, and therefore the value of drinking. On the other hand, financial influence, such as taxation, makes drinking less attractive: Evidence shows that simply raising the price of an alcoholic beverage by 10 percent reduces alcohol consumption by 7 percent.