Addiction is not a brain disease (and it matters)

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

64 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


The claim that addiction is a brain disease is almost universally accepted among scientists who work on addiction.The claim's attraction rests on two grounds: the fact that addiction seems to be characterized by dysfunction in specific neural pathways and the fact that the claim seems to the compassionate response to people who are suffering. I argue that neural dysfunction is not sufficient for disease: something is a brain disease only when neural dysfunction is sufficient for impairment. I claim that the neural dysfunction that is characteristic of addiction is not sufficient for impairment, because people who suffer from that dysfunction are impaired, sufficiently to count as diseased, only given certain features of their context. Hence addiction is not a brain disease (though it is often a disease, and it may always involve brain dysfunction). I argue that accepting that addiction is not a brain disease does not entail a moralizing attitude toward people who suffer as a result of addiction; if anything, it allows for a more compassionate, and more effective, response to addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2013. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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