Research on addiction or problematic substance use has been dominated by a biomedical model focused on choices individuals make and problems that ensue, including damage to the brain and body, health, and well-being. However, it is also crucial to consider the contexts that may shape and constrain individual choices. Scientists in this sociocultural tradition attend to the reasons people use mood altering substances, the meanings and practices they and others around them attach to the substances, and the dynamics between individual agency and larger social and cultural contexts. Methodologically, anthropologists primarily use qualitative assessments, while other sociocultural scientists draw on combinations of qualitative and quantitative data. This presentation offers two instances in which this broader social and cultural perspective raises questions about assumptions underlying mainstream biomedical research on addiction. First, when we look at ways out of problematic substance use, we find that people with serious alcohol and drug abuse problems often cure themselves, without formal treatment. At the same time, developments and expansions within the treatment sector have not significantly changed the efficacy of organized treatment programs. Second, when we examine how societies regulate substances in order to decrease harm, we discover that some of these attempts at social control actually cause harm. Frank examines prohibition of alcohol and criminalization of drugs as two examples. Overall, focusing on individuals in context rather than in isolation points to interpersonal relations as crucial factors that help explain phenomena like addiction and problematic substance use, which have a very powerful social and cultural overlay.
- Dialogue 2711 sessions
- October 30, 2013Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India