A socio-historical deconstruction of the term addiction and an etiological model of drug addiction

Shane O'Mahony

Research output: Other contribution


Over the past twenty years, treated drug misuse, drug overdoses, and the spread of infectious diseases linked to injecting drug use have all increased substantially in Ireland. To date, the consensus view in addiction research in Ireland is that drug-related harm is mainly explicable by reference to social deprivation. Furthermore, these approaches have largely represented the relationship between deprivation and drug-related harm by drawing on several positivistic indicators (high unemployment, low educational attainment, high crime rate). These approaches have failed to adequately engage with a large body of international literature on the social construction of concepts of “harmful� substance use across time and place. They have also tended to be disproportionately based on the experience of drug users in Dublin. The current thesis addresses these limitations by presenting a genealogy of dominant concepts of harmful drug use across time in Ireland, and a case study drawing on 12 in-depth interviews conducted with drug users in Cork. The thesis presents a novel approach to the study of drug addiction in Ireland, which argues that it is both constituted and real. The dominant understanding of drug-related harm in Ireland has been constituted over time according to the interests of powerful groups, political-economic and socio-cultural developments, and contingent events. Furthermore, the process by which this representation has achieved dominance has had a number of adverse effects on drug-using populations, including the view that they are a corrupting force in an otherwise well-functioning Ireland and the imposition of a stigmatized subjectivity. Alternatively, the current thesis argues that drug-using populations experience social suffering due to their lived experience of violent structures such as catholic institutionalization, patriarchal violence, alienation, and social bulimia. In this context, and when drug users meaning-making structures become undermined and treatment modalities deploy mechanisms of symbolic violence, their drug use becomes most harmful and they adopt the addicted habitus (i.e, become addicts). The thesis concludes with a discussion of this alternative model of addiction, and its implications for addiction research and policy.
Original languageEnglish
TypePhD thesis
Media of outputThesis
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages400
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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