Neuroscientific accounts of addiction: APSAD Conference symposium

Joining an impressive panel of researchers and drug user advocates at this year’s APSAD conference, held in early November, SSAC program leader Associate Professor Suzanne Fraser presented new research on the social and ethical dimensions of addiction neuroscience. Her paper focused on two recent popular science books by neuroscientists who work in drug use and addiction and have written about their work in autobiographical terms. Books

Symposium theme:

The idea that addiction might best be understood as a ‘brain disease’ has provoked both enthusiasm and pessimism from addiction scholars. Proponents argue that it will reduce stigma and lead to better treatment outcomes. Critics argue the opposite. For them, neuroscience encourages a reductive view and as such will only increase stigma and even hamper the provision and efficacy of treatment options. This symposium will explore key settings in which addiction neuroscience is being debated and potentially shaping outcomes, and will raise questions about how policy and service provision can best engage with it. Drawing on sociological and ethical perspectives, the symposium seeks to move scholarship about the social role of addiction neuroscience information away from a dichotomous ‘angel or demon’ debate by tracking for whom, and under what circumstances, neurobiological ideas about addiction are being taken up and made useful.

As Suzanne Fraser said, “APSAD offers a great opportunity for researchers to engage with clinicians, policymakers and service providers on key issues for alcohol and other drug use. In my presentation I’m looking at the popular writing of two addiction neuroscientists to ask questions about the way we make knowledge about addiction, and about the limits of scientific method. There’s a bit of a fantasy out there that science can supply unbiased facts about controversial issues such as addiction, and this needs careful scrutiny if we’re to find more effective and equitable ways of thinking about the issue and people affected by it.”

SSAC’s Dr Robyn Dwyer also presented at APSAD. She spoke on her research at the CCDW, Victoria University, which is based in an ARC project investigating addiction, moral identity and moral agency.

Neuroscientific accounts of addiction: Social and ethical dimensions. 2.20pm-3.20pm, Mon 10th November

Carla Meurk (Chair): Is knowing about neurobiology helpful to those affected by addiction? Perspectives of drug dependent persons and their families.

Helen Keane [Robyn Dwyer]: From dangerous drugs to neural reward: Are we all addicts now?

Suzanne Fraser: Expert autobiography and scientific authority in the neuroscience of addiction.

Annie Madden: Discussant

APSAD Conference, 9-12 November The Adelaide Convention Centre