Morality and Addiction

Morality and Addiction

Morality and Addiction

Morality and addiction has long been a cause for discussion. Despite the fact that the AMA has acknowledged that alcohol and drug dependency are diseases over a half a century ago, many still view addiction as a moral failing. This stigma has created barriers for those who may otherwise seek treatment.

Morality and Addiction: Changing Explanations

As human beings, we strive to explain the world around us and our place in it. It is part of human nature and it makes us feel more in control of our circumstances. We do it individually, as well as on a larger scale. Explaining and classifying situations, behaviors, and other people can be beneficial. It can help us identify other people and it provides a framework for understanding complicated issues. But sometimes our classifications are too rigid and our explanations just aren’t right.

In recent years, the biological and genetic model of addiction has taken precedence. Most experts now agree that addiction is a disease, and that it requires treatment like any other day. But one of the first models for addiction, and one that set the tone for the stigma that still persists today. This was known as the moral model.

Morality and Addiction: The Moral Model

The moral model considers addiction to be a result of human weakness. It is considered a defect of character. It doesn’t recognize biological or genetic components to addiction. As a result, it offers very little sympathy to those who suffer from addiction, since it is considered a problem of their own making. The implication is that addiction is the result of poor choices, and that addicts have a lack of willpower or moral strength needed to make better choices.

Morality and Addiction: Impact

The accepted relationship between morality and addiction led alcoholics and other drug addicts to be grouped with others who had demonstrated “moral failings.” This includes other socially undesirable behaviors and situations like crime, poverty, sin, domestic violence, and laziness. Naturally, treatment for addiction was aimed at punishment rather than healing. This idea still persists today in the infamous “War on Drugs,” which advocates punitive punishments for those involved with drugs rather than rehabilitative methods.

The old view of morality and addiction began to lose influence when religion and theology began to fade and science and medicine became more refined. Obviously, this view hasn’t completely faded, as the war on drugs still rages today. Also, doctors began to realize that  people with “good” morals are just as likely to use drugs and alcohol. This is when the “disease” model of addiction was born.

Morality and Addiction: The Disease Model

The disease model goes in the complete opposite direction in terms of morality and addiction. It views addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease, and not a moral failing. Thus, addicts do not deserve to be blamed for their disease any more than a cancer patient would. Critics of the disease model believes that it takes responsibility away from the addicts and instead characterizes them as victims.

There may never be a universal consensus on the idea of morality and addiction, but the disease model has proven far more effective in eradicating drug-related problems. Rehabilitation, not punishment, seems to be the answer,