How to recover from a brain disease: is addiction a disease, or is there a disease-like stage in addiction?

Anke Snoek*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


People struggling with addiction are neither powerless over their addiction, nor are they fully in control. Lewis vigorously objects to the brain disease model of addiction (BDMA), because it makes people lose belief in their self-efficacy, and hence hinders their recovery. Although he acknowledges that there is a compulsive state in addiction, he objects to the claim that this compulsion is carved in stone. Lewis argues that the BDMA underestimates the agency of addicted people, and hence hinder their recovery. Lewis’s work offers us a very much to be welcomed neurobiology of recovery. It offers addicted people a hopeful and respectful narrative for their recovery that treats them as agents rather than as damaged brains. However, I argue that overestimating people’s agency can also result in people losing belief in their self-efficacy. Lewis’s strong focus on the agency of addicted people might not match their experiences of struggle, hence reinforcing their feelings of guilt when they fail to control their use. I propose to replace the notion of addiction as a disease with a notion of a disease-like stage in addiction. I call this stage the duress stage in addiction, in which the addictive behaviour is largely impervious to the agent’s values and to available techniques of self-control. However, the agent can overcome this stage by developing new techniques of self-control, by building on their self-concept and belief in self-efficacy, by changing their environments and habits, and by engaging in projects that are meaningful to the agent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-194
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Early online date13 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. 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.


  • Addiction
  • Agency
  • BDMA
  • Compulsion
  • Duress
  • Lewis
  • Qualitative research
  • Recovery


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