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Opponent-Process Theory

According to Richard Solomon, (1974) the opponent process theory is a theory of motivation/emotion that views emotions as pairs of opposites. For example; fear-relief or pleasure-pain. When one is experienced (A), it triggers an opposing emotion after a period of time. With repeated stimulations (B), the opposing emotion becomes stronger, weakening the experience of the primary emotion and providing an aftereffect (Solomon & Corbit, 1974).

The conclusion is that when one emotion is experienced, the other is suppressed in the opponent process theory. Here's a clear example of that; if someone is afraid of the dark whenever that individual finds himself or herself in the dark that individual will express fear while relief is suppressed. If that person continues to be exposed to the dark, after a while his/her fear decreases considerably while his/her relief intensifies. Or if the stimulus is no longer present (the Dark) then the first emotion disappears and is totally replaced with the second emotion.

With the opponent process theory, Richard Solomon helps us understand better the reason why it is so difficult to break a drug addiction barrier. To begin, the drug initially produces pleasurable feelings, then a negative emotional experience or feeling occurs as opposed to the pleasurable feeling. But over time the drug user will need to consume more drugs in order to achieve the same level of pleasure he/she has previously experienced when first took that drug.

With that says, over time the positive effects of the drug will diminish while the negative effects will gradually increase, which triggers the drug abuser to seek or take more drugs. As a result, that drug user will now take drugs not for pleasurable effects anymore, but to avoid withdrawal symptoms (negative effects). The opponent-process theory also links emotional states with a person’s motivation. Although it is an intriguing idea, not all researchers have found support for the opponent-process theory.

For example; Sanduik and colleagues (1985) did not find a reaction to withdrawal, as predicted by Salomon's theory. With that says, additional research is needed to test the usefulness and the veracity of the opponent-process theory as applied to addiction.

Clinically speaking, an addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by a compulsive substance such as drugs and alcohol, to the point that it takes over their life despite harmful consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people begin taking drugs for a variety of reasons, including:

to feel good, feeling of pleasure, or “high”, to feel better or to relieve stress, to do better or improve performance whether at work, school, sports, etc. Other reasons can be curiosity or just peer pressure.

Although a person without an addictive behavior might think it's very simple to break away from, and may even get real upset at the addicted person for not being able to control his/her addiction. If taken into account Salomon's opponent process theory schema, addictive behaviors are not that easy to break away from, and the longer a person waits to seek help the harder it becomes to overcome.

So the best thing to do in order to stay away from getting addicted to any type of drugs is to only use drugs if needed and as prescribed, because the pleasure or relief found in the drug will gradually start reducing, while the negative effects such as; sadness, loneliness, drowsiness, frustration, agitation, etc. will take over, and unless taken a higher dose those unpleasant feeling will keep on increasing. And of course, the best thing is to always seek professional help as soon as possible and to always get support from your social support center; such as close friends and family members.


Argosy University, (2013), Learning and Behavior: Innate Behavior Patterns and Habituation. Data Retrieve From:

Richard Solomon & John Corbit, (1974), Opponent-Process Theory of Motivation: I. Temporal Dynamics of Affect. Data Retrieve From:

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