Addiction and Responsibility

Herring, Regan, Weinberg and Withington (eds), Intoxication: Problematic Pleasures (Routledge, 2012)

Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 37/2012

Posted: 11 Jun 2012

See all articles by Alan L. Bogg

Alan L. Bogg

University of Bristol

Jonathan Herring

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2012


In this chapter we explore the relevance to the criminal law of a defendant’s claim to be addicted to a substance which had intoxicated him at the time of the offence. We seek to emphasise the dangers of reductive thinking which can be found in both the legal and medical literature. Hence a sharp line is too often drawn between the voluntary and the involuntary; the responsible and the not responsible. This is found too in the philosophical and medical literature on addiction with the well-known dispute between the medical or moral explanations for addiction. Very often, in reality, these concepts do not admit of bright-line binary distinctions. Instead, they involve sensitive judgements of degree. We will examine the reasons why the criminal law rarely allows addicted defendants to have any defence based upon their intoxicated state. We seek to go on to justify the law’s reluctance to provide such a defence, by relying on the perception of addicts themselves to their situation. Most discussion of legal approaches to addiction has focussed on the view of medical experts or academic philosophers. Sometimes well-meaning experts assume that the marginalised groups such as drug addicts constitute communities beyond the reach of the criminal trial’s language of responsibility and blame. Such assumptions can be patronising. The self-understandings of addicts themselves provides, we argue, a useful and profound way of analysing the responsibilities of addiction. We do that through the 12 Step Approach developed by Alcoholic Anonymous, a very widely respected and used programme of recovery from addiction.

Keywords: Criminal law, addiction, voluntary and involuntary acts, responsibility and blame

Suggested Citation

Bogg, Alan L. and Herring, Jonathan J. W., Addiction and Responsibility (June 1, 2012). Herring, Regan, Weinberg and Withington (eds), Intoxication: Problematic Pleasures (Routledge, 2012); Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 37/2012. Available at SSRN:

Alan L. Bogg (Contact Author)

University of Bristol ( email )

WIlls Building
Queens Road
Bristol, BS8 1RJ
United Kingdom

Jonathan J. W. Herring

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

New Road
Oxford, OX1 1NF
United Kingdom

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