The images theory of addiction

  • Pekka Sulkunen University of Helsinki
Keywords: addiction, theory, culture, sociology


Sulkunen, P. (2015). The images theory of addiction. The International Journal Of Alcohol And Drug Research, 4(1), 5-11. doi:

In everyday language, addiction usually refers to a strong desire that drives people to continue habitual behaviour despite acknowledged harm and their own will to quit. Many theorists and practitioners have long rejected the concept because of its tendency to individualize problem behavior, to focus on treatment rather than prevention, and to limit harmful consequences unduly to a selected group of users. There is no commonly accepted etiology of, or evidence-based treatment for, the condition, and diagnostic definitions are based on syndromes only. This article argues that the objections are not valid if we understand addiction as a generic concept, defined in terms of characteristics shared by several specific types, of which some are called prototypes. Addictions involve neurological adaptations but are not caused by them. They always emerge from culturally regulated behaviours, they are processes rather than on-off conditions, and involve types and pathways that depend on the social conditions in which they evolve. Addicted and normal uses are closely related and governed by images that define the functions, norms, meanings and use-values of the behavior. These will be transformed as addictions develop. The Images Theory of Addiction opens the way to understanding cultural variations in the addictive process, as well as to identify particularly risky images of potentially addictive behaviors. The theory is illustrated with examples from recent comparative studies.

Author Biography

Pekka Sulkunen, University of Helsinki

University of Helsinki, Social Research, Helsinki, Finland

How to Cite
Sulkunen, P. (2015). The images theory of addiction. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 4(1), 5-11.