I think Claude Lewis missed the point of the science in Stop ‘medicalizing’ bad behavior (Philadelphia Inquirer - 2006-06-07). The commentary was written in response news “intermittent explosive disorder” (IED), a condition doctors suggesting may cause road rage, or other anger that is out of proportion to the situation. Lewis is concerned that research provides excuses:
The risk is this: The more things we label disease, the less we label as transgression. If you think of your problem as a “disease,” to be treated like a disease, that lets you off the obligation to change that behavior.
Of course, one only needs to look at the examples of drug addiction and alcholism Lewis uses to see this isn’t true. While alcholism is now understood better by the medical community, the effects of it are still not excused by society. Increased understanding does not “lend legitimacy” , but improves our ability to deal with the conditions. It helps those surrounding someone with the condition to understand why the solution isn’t always as simple as it would appear it should be. “Stop taking drugs” is easy for the us to say, but known to be incredibly hard for the addict to do.
I’m a proponent of individual responsiblity. It bothers me that society allows lawsuits against tobacco companies to include anyone under 35 (they knew it was addictive), or that any of the endless “it’s not my fault I was an idiot” suits can actually waste the court’s time. People need to responsible for their own actions, and must account for their own circumstances. If you’re prone outbursts, then it is your responsiblity to recognize the signs, and take steps to keep yourself on the safe side of the anger threshold. Similarly, if you’re an alcholic, you shouldn’t find yourself in a bar.
The viagra example is a good one. Fixing the medical condition doesn’t necessarily fix the underlying factors that caused the condition. If the problems are internal to a relationship, viagra fixes nothing, but if factors external to the relationship are the source of the problems, perhaps the little blue pill helps keep the relationship strong so that the external issues can be faced. The individual is responsible for looking at his circumstances and knowing if he’s dealing with the right problems.
Lewis ends off with his alternative to the scientific approach to understanding a problem - it’s not his problem:
One cure for road rage, our new “disease,” is quite simple: Suspend the errant driver’s license for two, five or 10 years.
Thankfully, the medical community isn’t content to just lay blame, and beat the offender with the biggest stick around. They don’t excuse the behaviour, but work to find the underlying causes to of the behaviour so that those engaging in it can understand themselves better. If you know what the problem is, finding the solution is much easier.
So why do the research? It’s part of the illness called the scientific mind: it causes those afflicted to seek to know why simply for the sake of knowing why.