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Drugs as instruments: A new framework for non-addictive psychoactive drug use

  • Christian P. Müller (a1) (a2) and Gunter Schumann (a1)


Most people who are regular consumers of psychoactive drugs are not drug addicts, nor will they ever become addicts. In neurobiological theories, non-addictive drug consumption is acknowledged only as a “necessary” prerequisite for addiction, but not as a stable and widespread behavior in its own right. This target article proposes a new neurobiological framework theory for non-addictive psychoactive drug consumption, introducing the concept of “drug instrumentalization.” Psychoactive drugs are consumed for their effects on mental states. Humans are able to learn that mental states can be changed on purpose by drugs, in order to facilitate other, non-drug-related behaviors. We discuss specific “instrumentalization goals” and outline neurobiological mechanisms of how major classes of psychoactive drugs change mental states and serve non-drug-related behaviors. We argue that drug instrumentalization behavior may provide a functional adaptation to modern environments based on a historical selection for learning mechanisms that allow the dynamic modification of consummatory behavior. It is assumed that in order to effectively instrumentalize psychoactive drugs, the establishment of and retrieval from a drug memory is required. Here, we propose a new classification of different drug memory subtypes and discuss how they interact during drug instrumentalization learning and retrieval. Understanding the everyday utility and the learning mechanisms of non-addictive psychotropic drug use may help to prevent abuse and the transition to drug addiction in the future.



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