Is Addiction a Matter of Choice?
In this photo taken Wednesday, July 29, 2009, from left, Tim Plescia, Marvin Miller, David Elledge, Joseph Baker. Antoine Wade, Christopher Williams and Dustin Miller, gather in a circle for a serenity prayer at the end of a discussion group for drug and alcohol abusers at the Sacramento Recovery House, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Members of a discussion group for drug and alcohol abusers at the Sacramento Recovery House, in Sacramento, Calif., gather in a circle for a serenity prayer at the end of a meeting on July 29, 2009. (AP)

Everybody knows addiction — alcoholism, drug addiction — is a disease. Conventional wisdom and years of reports tell us so.

Research psychologist Gene Heyman says no. Addiction, he says in a provocative new book, is a choice, or a series of choices. It is, he says, voluntary.

Most heavy drug users, for example, break free in their early 30s. Most diabetes sufferers, by contrast, do not.

Heyman’s thesis has drawn furious pushback. We’ll hear it. We’ll also hear him out.

This hour, On Point: Human choice, disease, and the dynamics of addiction.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us in our studio is Gene Heyman, a research psychologist at McLean Hospital and a lecturer in psychology at the Harvard Medical School. His new book is “Addiction: A Disorder of Choice.”

Read an excerpt from the book (pdf).

From Center City, Minn., we’re joined by Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer at Hazelden Foundation, a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center.

And from Washington we’re joined by Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health. She has been instrumental in building the case for drug addiction as a disease of the human brain. 

         Read about the “Science of Addiction” at NIDA

More links:

The Toronto Star reported on Heyman’s book in a piece headlined “Addiction: Could it be a big lie?”

Heyman is interviewed in The Boston Globe’s Ideas section and the Canadian weekly Maclean’s, and the book is reviewed in the Financial Times.

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