Science is divided on addiction underlying causes

Summary and Analysis…

In 2014, Nature published an editorial primarily focused on animal-rights activists’ arguments against using animal studies in addiction studies. The editorial promoted the brain disease model of action (BDMA) and commented that it was not particularly controversial “at least among scientists.” The brain disease model of addiction forms the theoretical basis for using Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to address addiction.

However, that comment sparked strong response from a range of scientists in the form of a a letter-to-the-editor from Derek Heim of Edge Hill University on behalf of himself and 94 co-signatories consisting of doctors, researchers and other experts from India, Italy, France, Sweden, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark and the US.

The full list of signatories is available as supplementary information to the letter-to-the-editor at Addition: not just brain malfunction.

The message was clear: the BDMA is not settled science. It is a theory with significant opposition from a wide range of researchers and experts.

Excerpted from Nature

Irrespective of the animal-rights issues you discuss, we disagree with your one-dimensional view that addiction is a disease, and with your claim that this view is not particularly controversial among scientists (Nature 506, 5; 2014). Neuroscience has been widely documented as just one of many important influences in drug addiction.

Substance abuse cannot be divorced from its social, psychological, cultural, political, legal and environmental contexts: it is not simply a consequence of brain malfunction. Such a myopic perspective undermines the enormous impact people’s circumstances and choices have on addictive behaviour. It trivializes the thoughts, emotions and behaviours of current and former addicts. It also belittles the significant effect that public-health campaigns and legislation exert on curbing substance abuse.

Addiction is too complex to be fought on a medical-research front alone. A variety of approaches based on diverse levels of analysis is required.