Suchttherapie 2017; 18(S 01): S1-S72
DOI: 10.1055/s-0037-1604495
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Power, Powerlessness and Addiction

J Orford
1  School of Psychology, University of Birmingham
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Publication History

Publication Date:
08 August 2017 (online)


When we talk about 'addiction', we generally think of individual people who experience it or suffer from it. The focus is on individuals. When it comes to the science of addiction, the dominant conceptions are psychobiological and the master disciplines are psychiatry specifically or the psy sciences more generally. My argument is that the addiction-as-individual-abnormality approach is partial, fragmented and ultimately ineffective, because it does not acknowledge the importance of power and therefore leaves distortions of power in place. I offer a more social model of addiction in which power is the central concept. The power and powerlessness model has the following components:

  1. Being addicted is a disempowering experience;

  2. Family members (and others) are subordinated by the power of addiction;

  3. Addiction strikes most readily and heavily where power to resist is weakest;

  4. The enormous power of the trade in addictive products has a number of hidden faces;

  5. Addiction change can be thought of as a process of liberation.

The dominant discourses about addictive behaviour encourage the attributing of responsibility for addiction to individuals and divert attention from the powerful who benefit from addiction. In the process, the voices of those whose interests are least well served by addiction are silenced. A longer version of these ideas can be found in my book, Power, Powerlessness and Addiction (Orford, 2013, Cambridge University Press).