Neuroscientist And Former Addict Explains What We Get Wrong About Addiction

The prevailing view that addiction is a disease, just like depression or diabetes, is wrong, according to a leading neuroscientist.

Marc Lewis, the author of Memoirs of an Addicted Brain and The Biology of Desire, insists that addiction is not a disease and that presenting it as such is harmful.

The brain changes seen in addiction have more to do with learning and development — not a chronic brain disease, said Lewis, who became addicted to opiates during his undergraduate years at Berkeley but got clean at age 30 and earned a PhD in developmental psychology. Viewing addiction as a behavioral issue, which has drawn critics and supporters, may pave the way for new approaches to recovery that target the psychological roots of addictive behavior.

Addiction is one of the most pressing public health issues in America. An estimated one in 10 Americans suffer from alcohol or drug dependency, while others have behavioral addictions, including porn, sex and gambling.

HuffPost Science caught up with Lewis to learn more about the neurobiology of addiction, his challenge to the disease model and some promising new directions for addiction treatment.

What’s wrong with the disease model of addiction?

I know what scientists are looking at when they say addiction is a disease. I don’t dispute the findings, but I dispute the interpretation of them. They see addiction as a chronic brain disease — that’s how they define it in very explicit terms.

My training is in emotional and personality development. I see addiction as a developmental process. So the brain changes that people talk about and have shown reliably in research can be seen as changes that are due to learning, to recurrent and deep learning experiences. But it’s not an abnormal experience and —> Read More