, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 588–610 | Cite as

Young brains at risk: Co-constituting youth and addiction in neuroscience-informed Australian drug education

  • Adrian FarrugiaEmail author
  • Suzanne Fraser
Original Article


This article explores the developing relationship between neuroscientific understandings of ‘addiction’ and ‘youth’. Drawing on science and technology studies theory and social scientific analyses of both these concepts, it identifies a co-constitutive relationship between notions of addiction as a brain disease and of youth as a stage of brain development. These two concepts are then tracked in a series of drug education documents concerned with alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and addiction among young people, and their implications and effects and analysed together. The aim is to investigate the impact on drug education of neuroscientific approaches to youth and addiction. Are new concepts and directions for harm reduction created in the encounters between neuroscience, youth and addiction, or do they simply reinstate and reinforce existing assumptions and judgments? Is drug education shaped by these concepts likely to achieve its aim, that is, to increase young people’s sensitivity to harm and safety? The article begins by introducing neuroscientific accounts of youth and addiction, arguing that the two concepts share three key assumptions. First, both emphasise biology and sideline social context in the making of drug use practices and outcomes. Second, both reproduce uncritical treatments of brain scans (PET and fMRI images) as windows into minds and subjects. Third, both understand the brain as ontologically separate from its environment. These assumptions and their implications are then tracked through an analysis of Australian drug education resources, focusing on how drug education constitutes youthfulness and addiction as pathological disorders. In its reliance on neuroscientific understandings of youth and addiction, we conclude, drug education is unlikely to achieve its goal of reducing drug-related harm.


addiction youth drug education neuroscience Bruno Latour Annemarie Mol and John Law 



The National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University is supported by funding from the Australian Government under the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants Fund. Suzanne Fraser’s research is supported by Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT120100215). The authors state that this manuscript comprises original material that is not under review elsewhere, and that the study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Drug Research InstituteCurtin UniversityFitzroyAustralia

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