Addiction and Volitional Abilities: Stakeholders’ Understandings and their Ethical and Practical Implications

Neuroethics 16 (3):1-22 (2023)
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Abstract

Addiction is a common condition affecting millions of people worldwide of which only a small proportion receives treatment. The development and use of healthcare services is influenced by how addiction is understood (e.g., a condition to treat, a shameful condition to stigmatize), notably with respect to how volition is impacted (e.g., addiction as a choice or a disease beyond one’s control). Through semi-structured qualitative interviews, we explore the implicit views and understandings of addiction and volition across three stakeholder groups: people with lived experience of addiction, clinicians with experience treating addiction, and members of the public without lived experience of addiction. We notably examine whether three paradigms, i.e., three philosophical sets of understandings about the nature of reality and knowledge (realism, relativism, pragmatism) reflect how stakeholders envision addiction and volition in the context of addiction. The use of these paradigms allows for the characterization of different stances on addiction and volition and an assessment of the coherence of beliefs about these matters. Our findings demonstrate that few participants relied on a single epistemic paradigm when describing their views. Furthermore, there were notable differences in understandings of volition between the clinician group, who were more oriented toward pragmatism, and people with lived experience of addiction, who were less oriented toward realism. Despite its limitations, our study suggests that a greater appreciation for the complexity of views held by different stakeholders about addiction and volition could help critically assess the search for coherence expressed in academic and policy debates.

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