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Addiction by design

A new report released by the US Surgeon General last month reminds us that cigarettes are designed with addiction in mind. Tobacco companies infuse tobacco with ammonia so that the nicotine crosses the membranes in the lungs faster, reducing the delay between inhalation and pharmacological effect. They add flavourings like chocolate and vanilla to the blend, knowing that smokers will be more likely to smell something in their food that they associate with smoking, and to feel like lighting up. These tricks are a source of moral outrage for many of us; it seems as though the tobacco companies are exploiting weaknesses in our biology to make us buy things we would not otherwise have bought, and to do things we would not otherwise have done (or would not have done so much). And tobacco executives have often denied engaging in these kinds of tactics.

All this makes for an interesting contrast with the case of video games, in which addictiveness is universally held to be one of the hallmarks of an excellent game, in which games can win awards for being addictive, and in which a developer can unabashedly boast of putting the most addictive systems into their games.

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Demedicalising and decriminalising drugs

Is drug addiction a disease? Substance Dependence appears as a diagnosis in the influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-IV). There are medical specialists in the field who use a range of different drug and non-drug treatments for patients who are addicted. There are hospitals and clinics where those who are addicted can seek help. But if it is a disease why is it treated as a crime? After all we do not lock people up because they have cancer, or hepatitis, or heart disease.

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Are addicts addicts?

by Nick Shackel

I think it would be fair to say that, insofar as people think about it at all, most people think that being an addict is a property some people have. Just like people can be tall or friendly or wealthy, people can be addicts. Some people even think that being an addict is an essential property of some people— that is to say, it is a property that they cannot lose without ceasing to be. This seems to be the view of Alcoholics Anonymous, who hold that even though an alcoholic can cease drinking, they can never cease being an alcoholic.
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The Fiction of Affliction in Addiction

by Julian Savulescu

Walter argues that addiction is:

1. a disorder of self-control that comes in degrees. It is essentially pathological self-control, like compulsive hand-washing, where the addict has limited control in some circumstances but not enough self-control.

2. a mental disease.

Bennett Foddy and I have argued that while addicts may have poor self-control and act imprudently, poor self-control and imprudence are not diseases. They are features of the human condition. People become addicted to all sorts of things: heroin, alcohol, nicotine, gambling, sugar, sex, the internet and food. What is common to all these addictions is that involve the reward system. Heroin may be more potent at activating this system than sugar, but they all act in a similar way. There are differences in degree, not kind.

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Are addicts responsible? Leverhulme lecture 25/5/10

Professor Walter Sinnot-Armstrong gave a Leverhulme lecture last night on the question of addiction and responsibility.  Click on the image or the link below to download or view a pdf of his presentation. "Are addicts responsible?" Listen to the podcast