International media have reported cases of pregnant women who have had their children apprehended by social services, or who were incarcerated or forced into treatment programs based on a history of substance use or lack of adherence to addiction treatment programs. Public discourse on the biology of addiction has been criticized for generating stigma and a diminished perception of self-control in individuals with an addiction, potentially contributing to coercive approaches and criminalization of women who misuse substances during pregnancy. We explored whether this is the case based on literature from social psychology, ethics, addiction research, science communication, and philosophy. The literature shows that the relationship between public discourse on biological aspects of addiction and issues such as stigma and perceptions of diminished self-control are unclear, largely due to the complexity of these phenomena. However, concerns about the biological approach are nevertheless legitimate given the broader social and policy context of women’s health.


Racine E, Bell E, Zizzo N, et al. Neuroethics (2015) 8: 177.


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