The Trouble with Morality: The Effects of 12-Step Discourse on Addicts’ Decision-Making (Report)

Abstract–Since its development in the 1960s, researchers have extensively scrutinized methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) as a medical response to heroin addiction. Studies consistently find that MMT is mole successful than other treatment models in the reduction of opiate/opioid misuse, the transmission of diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and criminal arrest and conviction rates. Nonetheless, a significant portion of active and former heroin addicts view MMT negatively and–perhaps as a result–MMT is vastly underused. This study examines the effects of 12-Step discourses on the opinions and treatment decisions of active heroin addicts, addicts in MMT, and addicts in 12-Step treatment programs. The study finds the abstinence/morality based discourse of drug addiction and treatment is pervasive among addicts and their non-drug using relations and peers alike; moreover, addicts have internalized this narrative, oftentimes despite their own knowledge of MMT’s success and positive personal experiences. The findings suggest that the dominance of abstinence/morality narratives contributes to MMT’s poor reputation among, and low use rate by current and former heroin addicts and that the power of the dominant discourse is such that it produces a desire to buy into its values and tenets even when it is against the individual’s interests to do so. Keywords–abstinence, decisions, methadone, morality, stigma, treatment

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