Leading neuroscientist opposes use of the “brain disease” model for addictions

Leading neuroscientist opposes use of the “brain disease” model for addictions

From The ScienceofUs blog, “There’s a Downside to Viewing Addiction As a Brain Disease” on 2-21-17. The original article, “Viewing addiction as a brain disease promotes social injustice,” was posted by Nature.com, and was written by Carl L. Hart, Ph.D. He is the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University and on his website he describes himself as a “Scientist. Activist. Educator.”  He is a neuroscientist who advocates, “science should be driving out drug policies, even if it makes us uncomfortable.”

In the article he states that there is no true science that has established that addiction is, an any way, a “brain disease.”  He goes on to point out the problems that result from using the “brain disease” model for addictions, both in regard to public policy and treatment outcomes.  He points out that use of that model tends to ignore the science that tells us that the vast majority of recreational drug uses “never become addicted” and also evidence that “co-occurring psychiatric and socioeconomic factors account for a substantial portion” of people who do become addicted. He goes on to advocate that use of the brain disease model results in “shameful racial discrimination that occurs in drug law enforcement.”

He concludes, “We can no longer allow neuro-exaggerations to determine our drug research funding priorities and directions, shape our views on drugs, nor our drug policies. The stakes are too high and the human cost is incalculable.”

mhconcierge’s take: This is a provocative article that may, as Dr. Hart anticipates, make some in the addictions field uncomfortable, but it is important to have evidence-based discussions about addictions and treatment.

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