The uppers and downers of medicalising addiction
Jeff Brownscombe weighs the benefits produced by applying the medical model to addiction against the need to understand its limitations
“Is it supposed to feel like this?” cries enigmatic Melbourne singer Peter Coles. Reality can be disturbing, either because of life's traumas or the yearning for new frontiers, which helps explain drug use and plenty more as well. Yet you will not read about it in many journals; sometimes music says it better than science.
The medicalisation of addiction is a complex and emotive concept, but in general terms it refers to the modern tendency to view addiction as an illness, develop interventions, and measure their effectiveness according to discrete outcomes—that is, reported drug use and overdose rates. Medicalisation can contribute positively to our understanding and response to addiction but provides an oversimplified incomplete view when taken in isolation.
Medicalisation provides an acceptable framework to provide information to patients, families, and the community. For the individual, a diagnostic label may increase their understanding, normalise the experience, and provide hope for