Why is the moral model of addiction so prevalent?

As previously discussed, the moral model of addiction, in which addiction is seen as a moral failing, is inadequate for our understanding of addiction and formulating a means to approach it. Despite this, the moral model of addiction remains prolific throughout multiple cultures globally. Why is this?

In my opinion, its prevalence can be brought down to one reason, albeit somewhat complex.

Addiction appears to have a genetic component. This has been supported by some scientific evidence, although it still remains to become theory. One considerable difference between addiction and many other genetic conditions, is that addiction requires an environmental catalyst to emerge.

What do I mean by environmental catalyst? Simply put, one does not become an addict until they begin to engage with the subject of their addiction. In my case, the choice to drink alcohol and take drugs was what triggered my addiction. The question, however, still remains to be answered as to whether or not I would have become addicted to something else in the absence of those things.

This then, is perhaps where the moral model begins to emerge from. Because people make an initial choice to use, that in itself is seen as a moral failing, even though many people are able to use drink and drugs, or gamble, or play video games (etc) with a modicum of safety. This is perhaps the first failing of the moral model.

Where the moral model continues to fail is in what follows. The model in itself illustrates a world in which addiction continues to be a choice. It proposes that addiction is not a public health issue, but instead a wish to live a hedonistic lifestyle. It suggests that we as addicts want to use/drink/gamble/etc to the point that we suffer and cause suffering for others.

All of this emerges out of the concept of choice, a misunderstanding turned wilful ignorance of the addicted condition.

Addiction is not a choice. It is not a matter of hedonism and criminality, it is a matter of trauma and public health. Continuing to allow the moral model to prevail allows addicts around the globe to suffer and die needlessly. We must continue to dismantle the stigma surrounding addiction and to educate people on the truth of this condition.

We must bring an end to the criminalisation of addiction, and we can’t succeed at that until the moral model dies.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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