Examining The History And Concept Of Addiction Criminology Essay

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In The Myth of Addiction by John Booth Davies (1997) assesses the long history on the concept of addiction, but the main focus has been on whether the notion of an addictive personality really exists, and if so, why is this so? Secondly a major focus has been on the question whether there is any free choice involved when taking "addictive" substances. Both these two viewpoints concentrate on the psychology of the individual. Of course this is not incorrect, but only a few academics have researched the concept of "addiction" in much depth. Davies (1997) gives a refreshing perspective on the concept of addiction, as a terminological creation. Thus the title of the book is The myth of addiction. Is it a myth constructed to put people into "boxes"? It surely narrows the research in so far that it categorizes individuals, and that the research looks beyond this point and not what addiction actually constitutes.

In his first version of The Myth of addiction, Davies (1992) already argued that the state had a too mechanistic and shallow approach towards "addiction". The central argument portrayed within his book is that of the attribution theory. And the subjective data for "why" people take drugs. However, Davies's (1997) work has an eye-opening approach towards a stereotyped subject.


The book consists of 11 chapters, divided along the lines of different examples and perspectives (e.g attribution theory) on the myth constructed in relation to addiction.

Davies's (1997) work represents arguments and explanations that state the notion of "addiction" as a functional mechanism. Throughout his book he repeats his notion that human beings obtain drugs because they genuinely want to. He believes that people take drugs using their freedom of choice. The general societal conception is that the pharmacological effect of drugs is what influences drug-takers decision making. Davies (1997) however, with supportive evidence from several psychologists, claims the very opposite, namely that behaviour is in ones own control and anything argued against that constitutes a myth of addiction.

Davies (1997) especially highlights the role of the "agents" who promote and spread the misconceived image of myths. Media creates, according to Davies (1997), a general inaccurate picture that unfortunately too many people base their view on and thus easily create prejudice views towards "addicts". Generally we tend to believe that those who are addicted cannot decide for themselves. The emotive topic is created by the image of the evil drug dealer who pressurises impressionable people into taking a drug, who then become helpless victims of addiction, where the resulting individuals become stereotypes.

As highlighted straight from the beginning of his book, he believes the concept of functionalism to be a major factor in the notion of addiction. Davies (1997) draws on this concept for the last half of his book. For policy makers explanations for addiction are functional in such to justify actions and thus not feel responsible. The main argument he stresses about addiction is that it is an explanation that is produced by the means of the attributional theory. Not on a scientific causal foundation.

Davies (1997) approach is simple in such that it interviews people about their views, opinions about their own or "neighbours" proceedings regarding drugs. However gathering information with such means requires having a profound understanding of the way people tend to answer questions- since this will open up new standpoints on how and why people explain and answer the way they do.

Davies (1997) especially concentrates on the attribution theory in explaining the myth of addiction. It is a theory that concentrates on why and how people explain how certain things occur. Davies (1997) distinguishes between socially constructed explanations such as reasons and those that are scientific causal accounts. These two different analyses are especially interlinked in the field of research into addiction. Davies (1997) draws onto earlier research of Heider (1958) who stressed the importance of having an understanding of why and how people explain the causes for theirs and others behaviours.

The earlier chapters in Davies's (1997) book looked at the development of the attribution theory via studies of Kelley (1967) and Weiner (1974) etc. up to functional attribution theory that includes the concept that explanations are functional for the explainer. Furthermore, Davies (1997) highlights the next important aspect in the development of the attribution theory, which is the correspondent inference (Jones and Davis, 1965). They both concentrate on what someone was trying to achieve by doing or saying a specific thing. Especially Eiser (1982) sets the cornerstone for viewing addiction in an attributional theorist angle. He stresses that the common mistaken belief perceived in drug related studies is that of demonstrating addicts as "naïve innocents subverted by others as a consequence of personal weakness and the inability to resist outside pressures" (Davies, 1997. p.22).

Towards the end of Davies's (1997) book he also concentrates on the influence of an external locus such as God, which encourages people to believe that their faith lies in the hand of an external force (God or medical services). This view draws on the "external paradoxical locus" which implicates that one is helpless since one is caught in the belief that an external power will be the only way out. Finally the last influence is the third stream- that is independent of science or God, and only counts on the natural process of the individual's self-control.


Even though Davies's book was published in 1997, and one would expect since then some improvements within the contemporary social system regarding drug-use, however one still sees within society, as he named it "the helpless junkie, the evil pusher, and the substance with the capacity to enslave" (Davies, 1997, p.ix). This belief is the drive for policy-makers to focus on finding a way towards a "drugless" society. Thus, a fundamental statement is that these misconceptions work for society as functions. Hence the need for a change of views in this field of research, ideally society could harbour a more positive view that presents an individual who has a decision to take the drug as often as he/she wants without any stigma attached to it. Nevertheless, this implies similar arguments to that of the Normalisation and Legalisation debate.

Moreover there is no explicit definition of "addiction", it is however constantly being applied to people portraying particular patterns of behaviour. Defining alcohol addiction, for example, is rather a mechanism of categorisation. The Anomie theory entails the notion of retreatists, which is being used as an example for addicts, since they do not share the common framework of society and are thus categorized and socially constructed as something different- addicts (Merton, 1938). If there is no specific definition of addiction, it will be impossible to generate an effective policy. Without doubt one assumes that the influence of the pharmacology of a drug takes over our self-control and thus influences our behaviour and willpower. This highlights Skinner's (1974) analogy between addiction and the Skinner box. Addiction is believed to be a mechanism that operates on a level beyond control. And thus once one has been put in this "box", it is impossible to get out of it.

Conversely, there are several other theoretical approaches to explaining addiction, such as the biological, psychological and sociological theory. Davies's (1997) perception is compatible with that of a social-psychological analysis, countering the view of the psycho-biological model. The opposing views are especially made by biological theorists who concentrate on genetic factors, brain chemistry and self-medication. The genetic factors are often combined with the notion of addiction as a disease (Leshner, 1997), which is supported by the American Medical Association and American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Where as Davies (1997) argues that the notion of addiction should be reconsidered from a different perspective, which is more likely to suit the contemporary development towards an increasingly more liberal viewpoint.

Although Davies (1997) approach to the notion of addiction is refreshing and away from mainstream research, it, however, is rather intolerant to other theories of addiction. Nevertheless, Davies (1997) is not alone in arguing that there are defects in the notion of addiction. There are a number of academics who support the notion that Davies (1997) has portrayed in The Myth of Addiction. The life-process-model by Szasz (1971) and Schaler (2000) opposes the disease model. They have also questioned the conceptualisation of addiction and seen addiction in terms of a normal habit, which has been named addiction due to social and moral influences. The sociological part of the theory concentrates on the individual and the social factors, especially clarified through functional explanations. Szasz (1971) also denies the suggestion that the pharmaceutical substance is the major factor, hence they both observe addiction as a choice, a lifestyle like every other. Research by Stimson and Oppenheimer (1982) supports the very idea that drugs such heroin are a product of the dramatization of the pharmacological properties as a much exaggerated dangerous substance. They came to the conclusion that people can move in and out of drug-use and are independent from any external force. The latter notion is probably most indefinite and vague since this would certainly oppose equally as much scientific research that came to the opposite conclusion.

Consequently, opponents of Davies (1997) notion of the myth of addiction argue that his notion is just another myth. Still, one cannot deny that the current system is not as successful as one would like it to be. Davies (1997) argues that the media and the government need to change the current framework, and to take a more socio-psychological approach. Especially in contemporary society we can observe according to Parker et al. (2002) an increasing Normalisation process. This process is more open to accommodating views such as those made by Davies (1997).

Moreover, fitting to the above viewpoints is the role of moral panics. Davies (1997) does not specifically draw on the notion of moral panics, but he highlights how media is also using addiction as a functional concept. Becker (1963) however, draws on the moral panic that plays a major contribution to how the morals are shaped around this area. Thus for changing the current framework; media is definitely an area that needs transformation.

The policy that reflects Davies (1997) notion most is that of harm-reduction. He believes it would anticipate towards elimination of infections and HIV and other illnesses deriving from unsafe drug-use. It will make more sense in a system that is developing towards a normalised drug-use, yet criminalising and stigmatizing drug-use leads into the opposite direction. He argues for the necessity of a framework that normalises drug-use as far as possible hand in hand with services that help maintain a safe system (Davies, 1997; Measham et al. 1994).

To understand Davies's (1997) point of view one has to understand the association with attribution theory. Davies challenges the common held view of addiction throughout his book and thus argues that 'I cannot stop' is not a statement of fact, but an inference based on the self-observation that "I reliably fail to do so" (Davies 1997, p.62). This notion highlights how society including family and medical staff try to convince the drug-user of the idea that one has an addiction/disease. Once one starts to believe this, it will become reality.

Davies (1997) plays a significant role in such as it is adaptable to several other important elements that are drawn on by other academics within the drugs-discourse such as labelling theory, environmental influences, stigmatizing, stereotypes and moral panics. Davies work is informative in portraying how addicts are portrayed in isolation and lacking self-control within a societal framework. Addiction is thus a human artefact. However, concluding from Davies (1997) work one can see that there is still a lot of research to be undertaken in the area of "addiction".


Davies's myth of addiction provides much insight into a concept that is controversial from the commonly held view that exaggerates the effect of pharmacological substances and contrastingly argues that people use drugs because they choose to on purpose and not because they are a victim of the "addiction disease". Addiction is a product of moral expectations, not only a scientific one. Unfortunately addiction is functional within society, and thus hard to eliminate. The central argument in The Myth of addiction is that letting people clarify themselves is a functional mechanism, it is a social interaction to orientate explanations to ones own motives. The hallmark of functional attribution is that one can choose which explanation suits ones own circumstances best.

However, one should hope such as Davies (1997) hopes that we can create a system where the individual has the power and volition himself to take or stop taking drugs. This power is not possible in the current system due to moral constraints. The most overarching source for society to learn about drug-use is through media. But especially when media talks about drug-use, it is often inaccurate and portraying a wrong image which creates prejudice not only amongst the public but even worse, therapist and researchers can be influenced by the media. To stop the myth concerning addiction one has to stop demonising drug-addicts and rather concentrate on a successful harm-reduction policy.