Drug Addiction and Criminal Responsibility

Reference work entry


Recent studies reveal some of the neurophysiological mechanisms involved in drug addiction. This prompts some theorists to claim that drug addiction diminishes responsibility. Stephen Morse however rejects this claim. Morse argues that these studies show that drug addiction involves neither compulsion, coercion, nor irrationality. He also adds that addicted people are responsible for becoming addicted and for failing to take measures to manage their addiction. After summarizing relevant neuroscience of addiction literature, this chapter engages critically with Morse to argue that a subgroup of addicted people does meet plausible criteria for compulsion, coercion, or irrationality; that few addicted people are fully responsible for becoming addicted; and that some addicted people can be at least partly excused for failing to manage their addiction. Pickard and Lacey’s “responsibility without blame” approach is also suggested as a fruitful basis for future work in this field.


Drug Addiction Criminal Offence Mental Capacity Skin Conductance Response Iowa Gambling Task 
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The authors are grateful to the Australian Research Council for their support of project DP 1094144 Addiction, Moral Identity and Moral Agency: Integrating Theoretical and Empirical Approaches. They especially thank the participants and staff of the Drug and Alcohol Services unit of St Vincent’s Hospital (Sydney) – in particular, Rankin Court and Gorman House – as well as Wayne Hall and Adrian Carter for their helpful comments and practical editorial on this piece.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeanette Kennett
    • 1
  • Nicole A. Vincent
    • 2
    • 3
  • Anke Snoek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Philosophy SectionTechnische Universiteit DelftDelftThe Netherlands

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