Talk addresses ‘Why Addiction is Not a Disease’

Consultant Psychologist and Clinical Lead at Forward Leeds, Matthew Gaskell addressed an audience of 150 on why it can be unhelpful to treat addiction as a brain disease .

The audience at St. Chads Parish Centre on 1 June 2018 was made up of professionals and interested members of the public who had come to hear Matthew talk at one of the Leeds Dual Diagnosis Network‘s regular events.

Matthew argued that viewing addiction as a ‘chronic, relapsing brain disease’ is:

  • Not good science
  • Too one-dimensional
  • Not the best way of analysing such a complex phenomenon.

He introduced the neuroscience of addiction and the undisputed brain changes that we see in addiction.

Matthew questioned whether these changes are evidence of disease/pathology, and he offered an alternative view that the brain is changing in ways that we would expect it to do for a deeply learned habitual behaviour with high emotional and motivational impact.

Matthew explained that the brain changes again upon abstinence and recovery when new habits are formed and new goals are pursued.

He then went on to question the assumptions of the disease model of addiction with research studies from a wide variety of sources from top journals across the world.

Addiction is best viewed, Matthew argued, at different levels of analysis (social, environmental, psychological, biological, genetic) to get a more complete picture of its nature, and most importantly, to find the most effective ways of intervening.

Matthew explained: “Drugs are not the problem, but often the solution to the problem for those with addictive patterns.”

Matthew continued: “We don’t need to look at brain scans to understand addiction, we need to understand the lives of those with these problems and their hope for a better future. Therein lies the compassion that those with addictions deserve.”

Matthew Gaskell C.Psychol AFBPsS is Consultant Psychologist & Clinical Lead for Addictions with Leeds & York Partnership Foundation Trust and Forward Leeds. He is also a Visiting Lecturer at University of Leeds, University of Hull, University of York, and Nottingham Trent University.