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It’s Misleading to Call Addiction a Disease

Jan 21, 2022

The New York Times has recently published an opinion piece authored by Dr Carl Fisher, an addiction medicine specialist and bioethicist, titled “It’s misleading to call addiction a disease.” The article draws on his personal experience with a substance problem, which led to his decision to become an addiction specialist. Dr Fisher proposes that perceiving addiction as a disease is an over-simplification, that focuses too much on individual factors reduced to a biological explanation alone. Instead, Dr Fisher points out that alcohol and drug problems are strongly influenced by health inequity - things like poverty, unemployment and poor housing. He proposes that the disease model implies that the individual has no capacity for choice or control, which can lead to a fatalistic view of people with substance problems - a pessimism that damages people’s sense of hope for the future, and impacts on treatment outcomes. 

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