Ethics in substance use disorder treatment. Academic Article Review uri icon


  • The coming decades will see exciting breakthroughs in the treatment of SUDs, such as further elucidation of the genetic mechanisms of addiction. Yet if the past is any guide to the future, each new discovery will bring with it new challenges to the core ethical obligations of honoring informed consent, protecting confidentiality, and respecting justice, while also protecting the public from harm and ensuring the good of the individual patient. For the emerging scientific shift to a biobehavioral model of addiction to transform cultural attitudes and enhance treatment and research will require the scientifically rigorous and ethically sound agency of ethicists and addiction professionals to influence public policy. The growing body of neurobiologic evidence that contests traditional assumptions about free will and responsibility will evoke more deliberate and nuanced approaches to informed consent and treatment participation and dispute the forensic orientation in drug policy. If this unprecedented paradigm change can influence health care decision making in a reasoned and balanced fashion, there is real hope that the cultural stigma, which has warranted highly stringent confidentiality protections, and the disenfranchisement underlying health disparities in addiction treatment may move in the direction of compassionate and competent care for all those who suffer from addiction.

publication date

  • June 2009