UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Conceptualising Addiction as Disability in Discrimination Law : A Situated Comparison Bunn, Rebecca


People labelled as having an addiction and people with disabilities face significant discrimination in their daily lives. In countries where targeted disability discrimination law is applied, it is often assumed that including addiction in the definition of disability will protect those labelled as having an addiction from discrimination. Several scholars have considered the effects of excluding addiction from the remit of discrimination law, but there has been less work examining the consequences – both positive and negative – of including addiction. Using the method of ‘situated comparisons’ developed by intersectionality scholars, this article interrogates how addiction and disability are co-constituted in two contrasting legal and geographical contexts, where people labelled as having an addiction have sought to assert their right to equality before the law. By comparing the application of targeted discrimination law in Australia with a human rights charter in Canada, it demonstrates how systems of power such as ableism and neoliberalism work through the law to co-constitute addiction and disability in ways that are stigmatising, even within legal approaches that aim to eliminate discrimination. Furthermore, the law, in both contexts, fails to recognise the intersectional nature of discrimination often experienced by these groups. The article contends that conceptualising addiction as a disability will not necessarily reduce the discrimination faced by people labelled as having an addiction; and concludes with recommendations for both policy and legal practice.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International