Addiction in Contemporary Society
To examine addictions as contemporary and trans-historical phenomena that
have not only profound biological and psychological dimensions but also deep
social and cultural aspects, in order to develop a constructively critical
awareness of notions and concepts of addiction, as well as of the beliefs,
attitudes, societal rules and practices about how addictive behaviours should be
regarded and treated.
Addictions describe a set of phenomena that are constructed and reshaped
within the context of historical and cultural factors. In that context, addiction
emerges as a very dynamic concept, one that is undergoing continuing
development, even as it tends to be taken for granted as an axiomatic, selfevident
issue with straightforward solutions. We will explore models of
addiction and addiction treatment to develop an integrated bio-psycho-socialstructural
To explore the following questions:
• What are drugs, and how do they work?
• Does a biological model of drug use offer an adequate understanding of
why people use psychoactive drugs?
• What does it mean to say someone is using, abusing, misusing, dependent
on, or addicted to drugs?
• What are there positive aspects to drug use? How do they compare to the
risks and harms?
• Is drug use inherent in human cultures or peculiar to particular circumstances
• What does it mean to talk about there being an addictive personality?
• Is addiction a bigger concept than drug abuse?
• Are our views and practices regarding drug use socially constructed? And if
• What does it mean to talk about “drug culture”?
• What are the relationships between desire, appetite, pleasure and addiction
• What are the relationships between distress, suffering, drug use and other
• How are drug use and addiction presented and portrayed in cultural media
such as music, cinema, journalism and literature? How does this change
depend on socio-cultural setting?
• What roles do the state and its institutions play in regard to the
production, marketing and use of drugs, and other addictive behaviours
such as gambling?
• How do societies determine what is acceptable and problematic about drug
use and other potentially addictive behaviours?
• Is a biomedical perspective adequate and sufficient for understanding and
treating addictive behaviour in individuals?
• Can addictive behaviours be effectively prevented and treated? What are
the forms of prevention and treatment that are used? How successful are
• What is the role of spirituality in recovery from addictions?
• Do people with drug problems have to stop altogether, or can they learn
to use in moderation?
• What has happened to our understanding and approaches to addiction in
the age of HIV and AIDS?
• What is harm reduction? Why and how has it emerged as an approach to
• What is the future of addiction as a socially constructed and mediated
• How can social work perspectives be helpful in exploring and developing
effective understanding of addiction in contemporary society?
• To present an overview of addictions that draws on theoretical and
conceptual models, scientific data, narratives of people affected by
addiction, and the lived experience and knowledge of course
• To develop an understanding and awareness of addiction as a socially
constructed concept that defines parameters of normalcy and deviancy
and shapes social, legal, and medical perceptions and actions towards
people affected by these problems
• To explore the ways that individuals construct and evaluate themselves
as affected by and suffering from problematic drug use and other
• To use cultural evidence found in films, book, and music to identify and
examine the ways that addiction is employed as a meaningful concept for
understanding the relationship between need, desire, appetite,
consumption, satiation, and pleasure and human behaviour at the personal,
interpersonal and cultural levels
• To employ addictions as a context for exploring Social Work as a set of
beliefs, theories and practices?
• To deconstruct implicit assumptions regarding selfhood,
interpersonality, normalcy and deviance that inhere in concepts such as
addiction, abuse, dependence, self-control, loss of control, treatment and
• To engage in a shared exploration of a fundamental dimension of human
experience in ways that respects differences, encourages open dialogue
and enhances critical thinking regarding key social issues
• To explore “drug cultures” (and other addiction cultures) as variants of
human community, with positive and negative aspects, where meaning is
made, contested, imposed and resisted, and where identities are
performed, shaped, preserved and change.