Bioethics Blogs

Why Addiction Narratives Matter

By Katie Givens Kime
Image courtesy of
Merrimack Repertory Theatre.

“My Higher Power is: Science!” proclaims Sean, a newly recovered alcoholic. “Sean” is the lead character in a comedic play, “The White Chip,” which premiered last year at Merrimac Repertory Theatre outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Written by Sean Daniels, the play dramatizes Daniels’ own near demise from alcoholism, and his experience of recovery. Neuroethics is writ large as the play tells the story of how critically important various addiction etiologies can be for those struggling with alcoholism, or addiction of any sort. In Sean’s case, the etiology is the brain disease model of addiction (BDMA) in a notable combination with the “Higher Power” understanding of 12-step programs, which he credits with saving his life. Behind the curious twists of the play, questions linger: which model of addiction should be presented to those in recovery, when so much conflict exists amongst addiction researchers, clinicians, and recovery care providers? At what point does an effective (potentially life-saving) narrative of addiction etiology supersede the obligation to provide all sides of the controversial matter of addiction modeling?

When Sean “hits bottom,” he has destroyed his career, his marriage, his health, and nearly lost his life while driving drunk. He enters a rehabilitation facility, but struggles with the suggestion that he find a “Higher Power.” Such a practice is reflective of the metaphysical claim central to Alcoholics Anonymous, and every other 12-step program: surrender to a Higher Power of the addict’s understanding, and is perhaps the most significant distinguishing feature separating 12-step methods from other recovery pathways.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.