, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 271–282 | Cite as

The Clinical Impact of the Brain Disease Model of Alcohol and Drug Addiction: Exploring the Attitudes of Community-Based AOD Clinicians in Australia

  • Anthony I. BarnettEmail author
  • Craig L. Fry
Original Paper


Despite recent increasing support for the brain disease model (BDM) of alcohol and drug addiction, the extent to which the model may clinically impact addiction treatment and client behaviour remains unclear. This qualitative study explored the views of community-based clinicians in Australia and examined: (i) whether Australian community-based clinicians support the BDM of addiction; (ii) their attitudes on the impact the model may have on clinical treatment; and (iii) their views on how framing addiction as a brain disease may impact addicted clients’ behaviour. Six Australian community-based clinicians participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews that were analysed using thematic analysis. Whilst the BDM was not fully supported by this purposive sample of Australian community-based clinicians, there was acceptance that addiction neuroscience formed a key part of a wider addiction framework. Participants believed the BDM ignored key social, psychological and environmental factors important for successful treatment. The BDM was seen as potentially irrelevant for certain client types (e.g., where housing or financial concerns were of high priority), however the model was believed to integrate with particular therapies (e.g., mindfulness or cognitive-behaviour therapy). Participants believed that for clients viewing their addiction in terms of a brain disease, there were potential positive (increased insight and decreased stigma) and negative (increased stigma and sense of helplessness, reduced personal responsibility) impacts on client behaviour. Implications for addiction treatment practice and public health policy are discussed.


Addiction Treatment Attitudes Qualitative research Neuroscience Brain disease 



We would like to thank the participants for their time and support for this study. Furthermore, we thank Robyn Dwyer for her research support and Adrian Carter for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no COIs.

Ethical approval

All study procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was accepted and deemed to meet the requirements of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) ‘National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007)’ by the Victoria University Human Research Ethics Committee (Application ID: HRE14-075; Approval Date: 13/05/2014).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.


This study was supported in part by the Psychology Program at the Victoria University College of Arts, and the Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP1094144), Addiction, Moral identity, and Moral Agency. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Victoria UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing, College of ArtsVictoria UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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