Further Reading

What is your stand on addiction and pleasure?

Dear Stanton,

In your 1985 revised How Much is Too Much you state on pages 5 and 7 that addiction is not pleasurable and that "the experience is not one of positive pleasurable sensation." Do you still stand by that, even though your introduction to Alcohol and Pleasure, 1999, appears to contradict it with the paragraph heading "Pleasure Plays a Role in both Ordinary and Problematic Drinking".

Could you explain the evolution of your changed thinking during those 14 years, or am I mistaken?

Dave Trippel

Dear Dave:

Good question, and thanks for reading some of my lesser works so carefully.

I have always believed that addictive drinking (and other activity) is not pleasurable, not only by the time of addiction, but from the start. That is, unless you consider the absence of pain and elimination of other negative feelings to define pleasure (which I do not).

In the paragraph you refer to in Alcohol and Pleasure, I preview this idea when I say, “”heavy or problematic drinkers may define pleasure differently.” The purpose of the introduction was to stimulate questions – I follow that paragraph with the questions, “What distinguishes pleasure as a healthful or harmful motivation in drinking behavior?” and “Can the concept of pleasure be used to encourage healthy drinking?”

In my article with Archie Brodsky, “Exploring psychological benefits associated with moderate alcohol use,” we say in the abstract: “Problem drinkers and alcoholics also seek mood and other benefits from alcohol, but are more likely to drink to counteract negative feelings and to support their egos than are social drinkers.”

In the text of that article, in the section: “Mood Enhancement and Problem Drinking,” we further state:

Cooper and her colleagues have related social and other motives in drinking situations to drinking outcomes. Cooper et al. (1992) found three distinct motives for drinking: to enhance positive mood, to cope with negative emotions, and to affiliate with others. The research found that people who drink primarily to enhance positive affect tend to drink more heavily than those who drink to regulate negative affect, yet are less likely to report serious drinking problems. Those who drink for enhancement and social motives are more likely to drink in convivial social settings, while those who drink to cope are more likely to drink alone or with one partner.

Other research (Cooper et al., 1995; Cox and Klinger, 1988) has found that drinking to cope with negative emotions is more likely to be associated with alcohol abuse than is drinking for mood enhancement. Marlatt (1987; 1999), in literature reviews, concluded that problem drinkers, relative to ordinary social drinkers, seek to compensate for personal deficiencies. Thus, although problem as well as normal drinkers appear at first sight to be seeking similarly positive experiences, problem drinkers crave them more intensely because they drink to resolve more fundamental needs.

This is a more gentle, data-based statement of my view that addictive and pleasurable motivations are disparate. And, in answer to my question of whether this can be used to promote positive drinking, I think so: by promoting the positive and pleasure-enhancing aspects of alcohol, you enhance the positive part of the drinking equation. On the other hand, you reduce addictive tendencies by indicating that it is unwise and unhealthy to try to use alcohol to balance out personal inadequacies.


Cooper, M. L., Frone, M. R., Russell, M., Mudar, P., 1995. Drinking to regulate positive and negative emotions: A motivational model of alcohol use. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 69:990-1005.

Cooper, M. L., Russell, M., Skinner, J. B., Windle, M., 1992. Development and validation of a three-dimensional measure of drinking motives. Psychol. Assessment 4:123-132.

Cox, M., Klinger, E., 1988. A motivational model of alcohol use.J. Abnorm. Psychol. 97:168-180.

Marlatt, G. A., 1987. Alcohol, the magic elixir: Stress, expectancy, and the transformation of emotional states. In: Gottheil, E., Druley, K. A., Pashko, S., Weinstein, S. P. (Eds.), Stress and Addiction. Brunner/Mazel, New York, pp. 302-322.

Marlatt, G. A., 1999. Alcohol, the magic elixir? In: Peele, S., Grant, M. (Eds.), Alcohol and Pleasure: A Health Perspective. Brunner/Mazel, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 233-248.

Peele, S., 1999. Introduction. In: Peele, S., Grant, M. (Eds.), Alcohol and Pleasure: A Health Perspective. Brunner/Mazel, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 1-7.