Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A VERY Liberal View of Addictions

The article, “A liberal account of addiction” describes drug and alcohol addiction from a very liberal position. It attacks the mainstream conservative view of addiction, and argues that addiction is not a sign of deviance, but merely a choice made by an individual who is giving in to strong desires for the purpose of partaking in pleasure (Savulescu, 2010).
                Foddy & Savulesu argue that the current view of addiction creates an image of addicts being “unwilling, disordered slaves who can’t help their immoral pleasure seeking actions (Savulescu, 2010, p. 11).”  This understanding of people fits into the conservative idea that some people are simply corrupt by nature and have a place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Conservatives view people as being driven by “two primary motives of pleasure and pain (Mullaly, 2007, p. 77).” In this picture, the addicts are primarily pleasure seeking, and they have no interest in participating in a traditional, productive life style. The authors reject this conservative interpretation of addiction. While critiquing this idea, they present a liberal view that people who may be at the bottom of the society totem aren’t immoral, diseased or weak, rather they are making a choice for themselves that they are very well entitled to.
                This liberal account of addiction presents the idea that people should be permitted to decide their own desires and values. Ideals should not be handed down and forced upon them. Mullaly writes that liberal beliefs are grounded in the “assumption that there should be as much individual freedom as possible in any civilized society…” (Mullaly, 2007, p. 91). In some cases, it is evident that an addict may prefer a drug over their health or even their own life and the liberal interpretation describes this as their choice. The individual who takes the liberty to make this choice, should be entitled to this preference and not labelled as immoral.  This very liberal viewpoint refers to addicts as people who merely have a “strong appetite towards pleasure,” presenting a less stigmatized picture of the addict (Savulescu, 2010, p. 15)
The article is written in a way which de-stigmatizes substance use in general. It argues that, because we live in a society where hard work and productivity are valued over anything else, pleasure seeking is seen as selfish and punishable, another attack on capitalist ideals (Savulescu, 2010). The addict is committing their life to pleasure rather than to contributing to the capitalist economy, and this liberal view argues that this is a lifestyle choice, rather than an immoral characteristic. The article contends that pleasure has an appropriate role in life, and that the idea of individual pleasure cannot be categorized into a normative standard (Savulescu, 2010).
                When examining the idea that some drug and alcohol addicts do want help out of their addiction, this liberal explanation supports reactive assistance from society and government funded institutions (Savulescu, 2010). It encourages the use of rehabilitation over treatment, however, and clearly expresses that treatment should never be forced under any circumstance (Savulescu, 2010). People should be able to maintain their autonomy and the right to make choices for themselves, even if they are experiencing addiction. While it recognizes the crimes that are related to drug use, it states that many of these criminal charges could be avoidable if drug laws were reduced and people were punished only for harming others, not partaking in an enjoyable experience (Savulescu, 2010)
             While this account is a very clear attack on conservative views of people with addictions, the article failed to explore the systematic issues which perpetuate drug use in our society. Rather than perceiving drug use as a coping or escape mechanism for some people who are dealing with very difficult, unfulfilled lives, it looks at substance abuse as an addition to people having a good time in life that is chosen over other aspects of life. While it can be that for some, it is important to examine why this need for chemical enjoyment is present in people’s lives and what may or may not be happening in one’s environment that is preventing them from achieving personal satisfaction. This liberal view does not recognise addiction as a disease, but a choice, ignoring the causes of addiction by refusing to address them.  


Mullaly, B. (2007). The New Structural Social Work (third ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Savulescu, B. F. (2010, March). A liberal account of addiction. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychologly, 17, pp. 1-22.
-Crystal M.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! The article seems to have a very different view than I would have thought. Good choice of topic Crystal.

    Each person has a choice in life and where they may want their life to lead, but how we get to that choice may be different than the next person, right?

    I do not view alcohol or drug abuse as a means of pleasure. In my opinion I see it as a means of escape from something else in the individual's life. What was it that lead this individual to make this choice and how do they need help? That is what goes through my mind.

    Dana W