Medicine and Morals, Craving and Compulsion

Document Type


Publication Date



Thinking about addictions has been dominated by two models: the medical model, which treats addiction as a disease and related behaviors as signs and symptoms, and the moral model, which views addiction and related behaviors as indications of moral failure. This article describes both models and their implications, with special emphasis on the moral model. The meaning of compulsion or coercion caused by internal psychological states, such as craving, is explored to determine if addicts may fairly be held morally and legally responsible for their behavior, such as seeking and using substances. It is argued that diminished rationality better explains than compulsion why addicts might be excused for their behavior, but it is concluded that most addicts can be held responsible for most addiction-related behavior. Nonetheless, both models have desirable characteristics, and sound public policy should not be based solely on either. The implications for criminal justice of employing both models to guide policy are explored.

Publication Title

Substance Use & Misuse

Publication Citation

39 Substance Use & Misuse 437 (2004)

Full text not available in Penn Law Legal Scholarship Repository.