What is Addiction?

Phil Withington, Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, was invited to participate in this panel on ‘What is Addiction?’ at the annual Battle of Ideas in London, and this is what happened.

Now that the prestigious Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM V) has recognised gambling as a behavioural addiction, some fear the door been opened to medicalising any form of harmful, compulsive behaviour. While some argue that viewing addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing opens up more possibilities for treatment and recovery, but others insist it removes the individual’s responsibility for their situation.

So is it possible to draw a distinction between those who are addicted to certain substances and those who are engaging in harmful behaviours of their own free choosing? Does talk of high-functioning addicts tend to blur this distinction? Should addicts be considered fairly exceptional in medical terms, or does this only encourage the stigmatisation of sufferers and complacency among others? Can addiction even be discussed without specific reference to what someone is addicted to?

[Text taken from The Battle of Ideas festival website]