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How to Deliver a More Persuasive Message Regarding Addiction as a Medical Disorder

Humphreys, Keith PhD

doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000306
Editor's Choice

Many members of our field are frustrated that the public does not see addiction as a legitimate medical disorder which should be compassionately addressed as a health problem rather than a criminal justice problem. Although some attribute the disconnect to the public's lack of scientific knowledge or attachment to outdated moral views regarding substance use, this commentary suggests that the problem may well be our own messaging. We would be more persuasive if we acknowledged that addiction is different from most medical disorders because of its high negative externalities, and that this understandably makes the public more scared of and angry about addiction than they are about conditions like asthma, type II diabetes, and hypertension. Relatedly, because of the amount of violence and other crimes associated with addiction, we should acknowledge that the public's belief that law enforcement has an important role to play in responding to addiction has a rational basis.

Veterans Affairs and Stanford University Medical Centers, Menlo Park, CA.

Send correspondence and reprint requests to Keith Humphreys, PhD, Veterans Affairs and Stanford University Medical Centers, 795 Willow Road (152-MPD), Menlo Park, CA. E-mail:

Received 6 February, 2017

Accepted 8 February, 2017

Funding: The preparation of this paper was supported by the Stanford Neurosciences Institute and the Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service.

Conflicts of interest: The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of any government agency that the author has worked for or advised.

© 2017 American Society of Addiction Medicine