Scientific article
Publication Date
Published by / Citation
Ochterbeck, D., & Forberger, S. (2022). Is a brain‐based understanding of addiction predominant? An assessment of addiction researchers' conceptions of addiction and their evaluation of brain‐based explanations. Drug and Alcohol Review.

Is a brain-based understanding of addiction predominant?



Brain-based explanations of addiction have become a prominent explanatory model in recent decades. Although opposing views have been published, there is no large-scale study of researchers' opinions, unlike for treatment staff, the public and affected individuals. Therefore, this study aimed to examine international addiction researchers' perspectives on:

(i) brain-based explanations of addiction;

(ii) the perceived dominance of the concept in science, society, treatment and among those affected; and

(iii) researchers' general conceptualisation of addiction in terms of knowledge and causes.

A sample of 1440 international addiction researchers was compiled.


One hundred and ninety researchers participated (13.19% response).

The classification of substance use disorders as brain diseases/disorders was shared by about 60% of the respondents. Approximately 80% considered it the dominant view in science, but fewer in treatment, society and affected persons. Approximately 75% found it an oversimplification, but regarded it as helpful for understanding substance use disorders. Altogether, various biological, psychological and social factors were considered causal.

Comments indicated that an over-simplistic nature of brain-based explanations of addiction was viewed as particularly problematic.

Discussion and Conclusions

A rejection of a simplistic view of addiction in favour of a multi-causal concept in which the brain plays a role seems to be the majority view of participating researchers. Therefore, the orientation of future research, treatment and support for person with an addiction need to be reconsidered accordingly.

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