Is addiction a matter of choice?

Gene Heyman, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School, seems to think so. His new book Addiction: A Disorder of Choice argues that addiction isn’t the untameable sea that sucks unsuspecting individuals under; instead he proclaims that it’s a matter of personal choice

Addiction can be horrific thing, and you’d hate to say that a junkie almost destroyed by the lure of heroin or the like is simply making a personal choice. But by the same token, if addiction is a disease, how can some former addicts live clean and productive lives?

While his argument is interesting, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of being seduced by it. Surely, as with many things, there is a turning point when an addiction becomes something more than flirting with disaster – maybe at that point it can be assumed to transmute into something more like the ‘disease’ tenant supported by the psychology community for all these years.

I gave up smoking last year, aside from that I think I’ve been pretty lucky as far as addictions go and I have to say that I’ve probably spent an equal amount of time feeling sorry for people with more serious addictive habits, and being frustrated with them. True some people are more susceptible to certain problems than others, whether this is due to a personality flaw, bad genes or bad personal choices could essentially boil down to the same basic problem couldn’t it?

2 thoughts on “Is addiction a matter of choice?

  1. “But by the same token, if addiction is a disease, how can some former addicts live clean and productive lives”?

    The answer is in the question itself. There is no such thing as a “former” or “recovered” addict. There is ongoing recovery. It is a continuos process, that takes daily effort on the individuals part. What the disease concept implies is that addiction is chronic, progressive, and fatal if not addressed like other diseases. We could get in to Axis diagnosis and all that other jazz but I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist. By making information and awareness more available, help for those becomes possible.

    Excellent Post


    • Thanks for the, extremely insightful, comment.

      I hadn’t thought about it in that light, that it’s the progressive aspect of the condition that is particularly akin to a disease or similar affliction. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me as it makes perfect sense now!

      I’ll be interested to have a look at what Gene Heyman has to say in his book, but I hope his beliefs don’t end up being detrimental to the cause – both in the minds of those outside addiction and those suffering from one form or another.


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