Discussion with Sally Satel of AEI
If Addiction is a Disease, What Kind of Disease is It?
Please join the Marron Institute for a discussion led by Dr. Sally Satel titled "If Addiction is a Disease, What Kind of Disease is It?"
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines "addiction" as "a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences." That definition was intended to eliminate stigma by characterizing people with drug problems as "sick" rather than "bad." It has been used to argue that people with addiction should not be held criminally liable for drug-related behavior, any more than schizophrenics should be held criminally liable for hearing voices or people with Parkinson's Disease for trembling, and that "will power" is irrelevant in the face of an overwhelming compulsion.
What is the scientific evidence behind the "brain disease" claim? There’s no question that the brain undergoes changes during addiction, but what do those changes mean? Is substance use disorder typically chronic and relapsing? Are people with addiction incapable of responding to incentives?
And what are the clinical, moral, and policy implications of characterizing habitual behavior as a "brain disease"? Looking behind the biology of the phenomenon to understand the deeper origins of addiction and its psychology helps us understand why some treatment approaches are more effective, and the ways in which recovery must transcend the clinical domain.