Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Neuroethics

pp 1065-1083


Drug Addiction and Criminal Responsibility

  • Jeanette KennettAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Macquarie University Email author 
  • , Nicole A. VincentAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Georgia State UniversityPhilosophy Section, Technische Universiteit Delft
  • , Anke SnoekAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Macquarie University


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.