The Moral Relevance of Addiction

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I attempt to understand and assess the widespread belief that addiction is relevant to morality. I examine several accounts of how addiction might be significant from a moral point of view. Although I briefly discuss theories of virtue, I focus on three possible ways addiction might be relevant to moral blame. First, blame might be imposed for the act of using addictive drugs. Second, blame might be imposed for the condition of being addicted. Third, blame might be imposed for further risks persons are likely to undertake once they have become addicts. I conclude that each of these accounts has some plausibility, but none is entirely unproblematic. Addiction probably is relevant to morality, although its degree of importance is not as great as some commentators appear to believe. The moral relevance of addiction does not appear to rise to whatever level would justify a punitive response to addictive drug users.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-436+514-517
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Addiction
  • Blame
  • Compulsion
  • Craving
  • Virtue
  • Voluntariness


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