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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The chronic disease concept of addiction : helpful or harmful? Wiens, Thomas K.


In contemporary culture, socially deviant behavior is increasingly being conceptualized as the result of a disease. This, perhaps, is most salient in regards to addiction. The chronic disease model of alcoholism has its roots in early assumptions that have recently been discredited or at least challenged. For example, it has been found that the majority of alcoholics permanently overcome their addiction, without treatment, and within a few years. This thesis employs an experimental method to examine whether telling individuals with a mild to moderate alcohol addiction that they have a chronic brain disease influences their perceptions of addiction-related agency as well as their feelings of shame and stigma. Participants, recruited online, were randomly assigned to internalize statements promoting (a) a disease model of addiction, (b) a psychosocial model, or (c) a neutral control condition; they then completed several indices of agency in relation to drinking, as well as measures of perceived and internalized stigma and state shame. Participants who internalized the disease model of addiction tended to have weaker perceptions of drinking self-efficacy, whereas internalizing psychosocial model beliefs tended to induce a stronger internal locus of control and weaker entitization of addiction. Both the disease and the psychosocial conditions increased, in equal amounts, both feelings of stigma and shame relative to the control condition. The relationships between various demographic, attitudinal, and trait measures, as well as indices of agency, stigma, and shame, were assessed. The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of the benefits and costs of each of these models of addiction.

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