The brain disease model of addiction: Is it supported by the evidence and has it delivered on its promises?

Wayne Hall, Adrian Carter, Cynthia Forlini

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterResearchpeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Since 1997 the US National Institute on Drug Abuse has advocated a brain disease model of addiction (BDMA). We assess the strength of evidence for the BDMA in animals, neuroimaging studies of people with addiction, and current research on the role of genetics in addiction. We critically assess claims about the medical and social benefits of use of the BDMA because the social implications are often implied as a reason to accept this model. Furthermore, we argue that the BDMA is not supported by animal and neuroimaging evidence to the extent its advocates suggest; it has not helped to deliver more effective treatments for addiction; and its effect on public policies toward drugs and people with addiction has been modest. The focus of the BDMA is on disordered neurobiology in a minority of severely addicted individuals, which undermines the implementation of effective and cost-effective policies at the population level to discourage people from smoking tobacco and drinking heavily. The pursuit of high technology direct brain interventions to cure addiction when most individuals with addiction do not have access to effective psychosocial and drug treatments is questionable
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-110
Number of pages6
JournalThe Lancet Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015

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