Addiction and Moralization: the Role of the Underlying Model of Addiction

Lily E. Frank, Saskia K. Nagel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
261 Downloads (Pure)


Addiction appears to be a deeply moralized concept. To understand the entwinement of addiction and morality, we briefly discuss the disease model and its alternatives in order to address the following questions: Is the disease model the only path towards a ‘de-moralized’ discourse of addiction? While it is tempting to think that medical language surrounding addiction provides liberation from the moralized language, evidence suggests that this is not necessarily the case. On the other hand non-disease models of addiction may seem to resuscitate problematic forms of the moralization of addiction, including, invoking blame, shame, and the wholesale rejection of addicts as people who have deep character flaws, while ignoring the complex biological and social context of addiction. This is also not necessarily the case. We argue that a deficit in reasons responsiveness as basis for attribution of moral responsibility can be realized by multiple different causes, disease being one, but it also seems likely that alternative accounts of addiction as developed by Flanagan, Lewis, and Levy, may also involve mechanisms, psychological, social, and neurobiological that can diminish reasons responsiveness. It thus seems to us that nondisease models of addiction do not necessarily involve moralization. Hence, a non-stigmatizing approach to recovery can be realized in ways that are consistent with both the disease model and alternative models of addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-139
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Addiction
  • Disease model
  • Moral responsibility
  • Moralization
  • Stigma
  • UT-Hybrid-D


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