What is addiction?

Saturday 19 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Pit Theatre Battle for our minds

Now that the prestigious Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM V) has recognised gambling as a behavioural addiction, some fear the door been opened to medicalising any form of harmful, compulsive behaviour. While some argue that viewing addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing opens up more possibilities for treatment and recovery, but others insist it removes the individual’s responsibility for their situation. So is it possible to draw a distinction between those who are addicted to certain substances and those who are engaging in harmful behaviours of their own free choosing? Does talk of high-functioning addicts tend to blur this distinction? Should addicts be considered fairly exceptional in medical terms, or does this only encourage the stigmatisation of sufferers and complacency among others? Can addiction even be discussed without specific reference to what someone is addicted to?

Dr Frankie Anderson
psychiatry trainee; co-founder, Sheffield Salon

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones
director, National Problem Gambling clinic; honorary senior lecturer, Division of Brain Science, Imperial College, London

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
writer on medicine and politics; author, The Tyranny of Health

Dr Sally Satel
resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; psychiatrist; author, Brainwashed: the seductive appeal of mindless neuroscience

Phil Withington
professor of early modern history, University of Sheffield; co-editor, Intoxication and Society

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
Recommended readings
Pornography addiction leads to same brain activity as alcoholism or drug abuse, study shows

Cambridge University scientists reveal changes in brain for compulsive porn users which don't occur in those with no such habit

Adam Withnall, Independent, 22 September 2013

The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts

Long before he brought people into his laboratory at Columbia University to smoke crack cocaine, Carl Hart saw its effects firsthand. Growing up in poverty, he watched relatives become crack addicts, living in squalor and stealing from their mothers. Childhood friends ended up in prisons and morgues.

JOHN TIERNEY, New York Times, 16 September 2013

David Nutt: making the medical case for addiction

Nutt is a controversial figure, perhaps because he takes a morally neutral, utilitarian approach to a subject laden with ideological and cultural baggage.

Niall Boyce, Lancet, 23 March 2013

The D.S.M. Gets Addiction Right

WHEN we say that someone is “addicted” to a behaviour like gambling or eating or playing video games, what does that mean? Are such compulsions really akin to dependencies like drug and alcohol addiction — or is that just loose talk?

HOWARD MARKEL, New York Times, 5 June 2012

Our society is hooked on harm reduction

We should approach the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs as a moral question, not as a clinical or legal matter

Dr. Michael FItzpatrick, spiked, 10 November 2011

Addiction and Freedom

In 1970, high-grade heroin and opium flooded Southeast Asia. Military physicians in Vietnam estimated that between 10 percent and 25 percent of enlisted Army men were addicted to narcotics.

Gene M. Heyman, New Republic, 15 March 2010

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