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If Addiction is not Best Conceptualized a Brain Disease, then What Kind of Disease is it?

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12152-016-9287-2

Cite this article as:
Satel, S.L. & Lilienfeld, S.O. Neuroethics (2016). doi:10.1007/s12152-016-9287-2


A modest opposition to the brain disease concept of addiction has been mounting for at least the last decade. Despite the good intentions behind the brain disease rhetoric – to secure more biomedical funding for addiction, to combat “stigma,” and to soften criminal approaches – the very concept of addiction as a brain disease is deeply conceptually confused. We question whether Lewis goes far enough in his challenge, robust as it is, of the brain disease concept. For one thing, the notion that addiction is a disease (especially within the behavioral realm) is challenging to refute or confirm because the disease concept itself is poorly defined in medical and psychological nosology. More important, quibbling over what kind of disease addiction is unlikely to be productive. The rational response to adjudicating whether addiction is a brain disease is not to engage in potentially fruitless debates over the question of disease classification but rather to view addiction as an enormously complex set of behaviors that operate on several dimensions, ranging from molecular function and structure and brain physiology to psychology, the psychosocial environment, and social and cultural relations.


Addiction Brain disease Reductionism Levels of analysis National Institute on Drug Abuse Neurocentrism Philosophy of medicine Over-medicalization 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.American Enterprise InstituteWashington DCUSA
  2. 2.Yale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of PsychologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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