Imagining the Addict: Evaluating Social and Legal Responses to Addiction

21 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2010

See all articles by Elizabeth E. Joh

Elizabeth E. Joh

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: September 15, 2010


Conventional legal scholarship largely underappreciates the sociolegal construction of the addict. Addiction is, of course, a medically defined term, but in these responses, the addict represents much more than the set of physiological responses to a psychotropic drug. And while not all users of addictive substances become addicts, it is the portrait of the addict that forms the symbolic focus of public campaigns against their use. Using the examples of tobacco and illegal drugs - specifically, methamphetamine - this essay asks what insights might be found in comparing the characterization of the addict and his addiction in these different settings. Of course, there are enormous differences between tobacco and methamphetamine that resist an exact comparison between the two. And the discussion of these two examples cannot claim to offer definitive causal proof that policy failure or success turns upon the social construction of the addict. Rather, the modest goal of this essay is to depart from the question of how law can regulate behavior, and ask a question of a different sort: how do legal and social responses imagine the addict, and how might this knowledge help further our thinking about the problem of controlling addiction?

Keywords: addiction, law and society, methamphetamine, tobacco, sociolegal

Suggested Citation

Joh, Elizabeth E., Imagining the Addict: Evaluating Social and Legal Responses to Addiction (September 15, 2010). Utah Law Review, Vol. 2009, No. 1, p. 175, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth E. Joh (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States

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