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Incentive salience

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Incentive salience occurs when stimuli associated with drug-taking behavior become reinforcing themselves. Thus, if a person's addiction is extinguished and he is then presented with a stimulus that has been associated with the drug in the past, a craving for that drug occurs. For example, anti-drug agencies previously used posters with images of drug paraphernalia as an attempt to show the dangers of drug use. However, such posters are no longer used because of the effects of incentive salience in causing relapse upon sight of the stimuli illustrated in the posters.

Incentive salience is primarily affiliated with the "wanting" aspects of drug behavior, while the hedonic value (liking) is unaffected. In fact, if the incentive salience associated with drug taking becomes pathalogically amplified, the user may want the drug more and more while liking it less and less. This can lead to uncontrolled drug behavior which is not motivated by the hedonic value that caused acquisition of the habit in the first place.


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