Addiction is increasingly considered a chronic, relapsing brain disease; however, many scholars still disagree with the brain disease model of addiction. We set out to provide evidence of attorneys’ and physicians’ beliefs regarding the model. First, we asked the following question: do attorneys and physicians affirm the full brain disease model, or its modified form, or do they believe that addiction is driven by deficits in self-control or moral weakness? Second, we evaluated the extent to which such beliefs correspond to attitudes toward individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs).
A questionnaire was sent to resident physicians (N = 301) and criminal defense attorneys (N = 483) practicing in the United States. It was comprised of (i) an attitudes measure, (ii) a measure regarding conceptions of addiction, and (iii) demographic questions.
Attorneys were more likely to believe that individuals with SUDs had “practically no choice” about whether to seek and use, whereas physicians were more likely to believe that such individuals had “genuine choice.” For both groups of participants, the rejection of the full brain disease model of addiction was associated with more negative attitudes toward individuals with SUDs.
These results represent an important advance, as past research has neglected attorneys’ attitudes and is inconclusive regarding the manner in which beliefs about the brain disease model of addiction are related to attitudes toward individuals with SUDs. Educating practitioners regarding this relationship would raise awareness regarding when and to what extent stigma is likely to be present, which may in turn provide a foundation from which to address stigma. (Am J Addict 2020;00:00-00).

© 2020 American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.