Addiction, Identity, Morality


Background: Recent literature on addiction and judgments about the characteristics of agents has focused on the implications of adopting a “brain disease” versus “moral weak- ness” model of addiction. Typically, such judgments have to do with what capacities an agent has (e.g., the ability to abstain from substance use). Much less work, however, has been conducted on the relationship between addiction and judgments about an agent’s identity, including whether or to what extent an individual is seen as the same person after becoming addicted. Methods: We conducted a series of vignette-based experiments (total N1⁄43,620) to assess lay attitudes concerning addiction and identity persistence, systematic- ally manipulating key characteristics of agents and their drug of addiction. Conclusions: In Study 1, we found that U.S. participants judged an agent who became addicted to drugs as being closer to “a completely different person” than “completely the same person” as the agent who existed prior to the addiction. In Studies 2–6, we investigated the intuitive basis for this result, finding that lay judgments of altered identity as a consequence of drug use and addiction are driven primarily by perceived negative changes in the moral character of drug users, who are seen as having deviated from their good true selves.

American Journal of Bioethics: Empirical Bioethics

Full citation

Earp, B.D., Skorburg, A., Everett, J.A.C., & Savulescu, J. (2018). Addiction, identity, morality. American Journal of Bioethics: Empirical Bioethics. 10, 136-153. DOI:10.1080/23294515.2019.1590480.