Rethink addiction

In National Science Week, Professor Dan Lubman AM, the Executive Clinical Director of Turning Point, a national addiction treatment, education and research centre, invites us to rethink addiction. He says it’s one of the most misunderstood health conditions and that until we change how we view addiction — from personal failure to a mental disorder — Australians, and millions globally, will continue to suffer.

You may recognise Dan from the remarkable SBS television series Addicted Australia that was broadcast last year and is available on demand. It follows the lives of a group of Australians and their families as they confront their addiction head on. Here, Dan explains why we need to rethink addiction.

In simple terms, addiction is the inability to stop consuming a drug or cease a particular activity. Statistics show that around one in four Australians will develop an alcohol, drug or gambling disorder during their lifetime, and around one in 20 will develop addiction, the most severe form of the disorder.

A common misconception is that addiction is a result of a lack of willpower or poor self-control. But in reality, it is a complex health disorder with a range of biological, developmental and environmental risk factors, including trauma, pain, social isolation or exclusion, and genetics.

Addiction is also one of the most stigmatised of all health conditions globally. Too often, we blame the individual, believing the addiction is their fault. But addiction is an unfortunate consequence of something much more complex, with people often turning to alcohol or other drugs to help cope with stress, financial pressures, loss and trauma. Despite common stereotypes, addiction doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds.

To help change community perceptions about the reality of addiction, we need to elevate expectations about what treatment should look like, and alter the narrative such that recovery is not just a possibility, but like for other health conditions, is a realistic goal.

Treating addiction like any other health disorder has to start with strong public policy reform and intervention to ensure the health system is adequately supported and resourced, so accessible and timely treatment is available to people who need it.

Until we change how we view addiction — from personal failure to a mental disorder, something we cannot control any more than we can control any other disease — Australians, and millions globally, will continue to suffer.

Turning Point, Australia’s leading national addiction treatment, education and research centre, is leading the charge by partnering with more than 40 organisations on a national campaign called ‘Rethink Addiction’ that aims to educate and advocate for the need to change Australia’s attitude and response to addiction.

The overarching goals of the campaign are:

  • That addiction is established as a national priority.
  • That a national convention be held for meaningful knowledge exchange between experts, affected Australians and policy makers.
  • For a national plan and roadmap to be drafted to address addiction, and
  • For the establishment of a dedicated addiction research fund.

Recently the campaign announced that one of its goals was already well on its way to being achieved, with the launch of the National Rethink Addiction Convention to be held in Canberra from the 19-21 October 2021. This will elevate the discussion and start a national conversation by bringing together a diverse range of perspectives, including consumers, families, front line workers, treatment providers, policymakers and other key stakeholders. It is an opportunity for us to lift our voices to the decision makers in Canberra so that we can improve lives and community outcomes for those living with addiction.

For more information, please visit

Join the conversation

All welcome to join a special National Science Week online event presented by Inspiring Australia NSW and the State Library of NSW as part of The Science of Us.

When: 11:30am to 12:30pm, Thursday 19 August 2021
Where: online
Cost: Free with booking via this link

Feature image of Professor Dan Lubman AM courtesy of Turning Point. The Science of Us is curated by Jackie Randles, Manager Inspiring Australia NSW, and co-presented with the State Library of NSW.