Monday, June 20, 2016

Is Addiction Caused By Character Flaws?

The Moral Model of Addiction

By Libertinus Yomango (originally posted to Flickr as Shame) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many people, especially in certain religious groups and the legal system, who attribute alcohol and drug addiction - and many other forms of addiction - to personal choices caused by an individual's character flaws. This is referred to as the moral model of addiction.

Those who accept this view, perhaps the majority in Traynor v. Turnage, 485 U.S. 535 (1988), explain substance abuse and addiction on the grounds that: 1) a person with greater moral strength could have the force of will to break an addiction, or 2) the addict demonstrated a great moral failure in the first place by starting the addiction. They have little sympathy for individuals with serious drug and alcohol addictions.

The moral model of addiction doesn’t acknowledge biological or genetic factors. It blames addiction on an individual's poor choices and lack of willpower or moral strength. Support for this theory is seen in the fact that drug and alcohol addiction is often associated with immoral activities like prostitution and other crimes. Punishment for addiction related crimes, such as for DUI, or being drunk in public, are intended to motivate people to behave properly.

The downside of the moral model of addiction is that it may create in some the belief that addicts are immoral. Consequently, addicts who have been taught to accepts this view, or are surrounded by those who do, may blame themselves for their addiction problems and feel great shame. These feelings make it more difficult for people suffering from abuse and addiction problems to seek help when they need it.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognizes alcoholism as a disease - not a character flaw - that includes: craving, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance.

Return to Substance Abuse CLE.


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