Baby I’m an Addict – What does Science Understand about Addiction?

Is addiction a failure of will or a chronic illness? This question has been the subject of much debate over the years. Addiction can become all-consuming regardless of the legal status of the drugs involved. Severe health deterioration, and emotional and psychological damage are just some of the effects associated with patterns of addictive drug use. Over time, addicts become less able to perform day-to-day activities, and their routines can be thrown into disarray. Nonetheless, some individuals still maintain their habit regardless of these effects. The reasons for this are of central importance to those trying to understand addiction.

 Addiction was believed to be a failure of will back in the 1930s. In this model, it was viewed as a failure of morals on the part of the addict, simply a lack of self-control. By the comparatively enlightened 1980s, researcher William Willbanks had proposed three main models of addiction: the moral model, the learning model, and the medical model. These models differed mainly in the causes they attributed to drug use, and the degree to which they acknowledged the role of free will. The moral model of addiction posited that addiction is a choice based on poor values or a choice made by individuals with low moral standards. In contrast to this, the medical model interpreted addiction as a desire which is completely out of the addict’s control. The learning model viewed addiction as a result of choices made by individuals who was influenced by their surroundings and environmental factors.

“The scientific consensus surrounding the causes and maintaining factors of addiction changed mainly as a result of the medical profession’s growing knowledge of the physiological factors associated with addiction”

 “Addiction is a brain disease,” Alan Leshner declared in Science in 1997. This view heralded the new scientific consensus on the issue, and led to addiction being recognised as a chronic illness which alters…

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