One question that has fascinated students of behavior since well before the advent of contemporary social science concerns the nature of addiction. Is it natural (chemical/genetic) or behavioral? The answer to this question has important implications for both morality and policy, and it's one that I will likely touch on here from time to time. It's tangentially related to my research on drug trafficking organizations but I find it interesting for its own sake.

Lately I've been reading The English Opium Eater, which was reviewed in The New Republic earlier this year. (More on this to come.) This question has also come up in conversations with some social workers and pharmacists (both students and professionals) that I spend time with. If you ask me, that's the real way that interdisciplinarity works: when people get together over food and drinks and discuss important issues. The craze of interdisciplinary research for its own sake may have payoffs, but none as good as real stimulating conversation with people whose perspective on the world is fundamentally different from your own.

Basically the positions I've encountered on addiction are:

  • It depends on the person (from the social worker, unsurprisingly)
  • It depends on the substance (pharmacists lean this way, again not a shocker)
  • Some combination of the above
I tend to lean toward the third one, but with a bigger dose (no pun intended) of the behavioral explanation than is typically mentioned in current drug policy in the US.