Addiction and Liberty

I’m beginning research for a seminar paper I am writing on the topic of whether chemical addiction should be a compensable damage on the theory that addiction deprives an individual of a liberty interest. In particular, I am dealing with the case of tobacco. Currently, people are awarded damages in tobacco litigation based on the illness they undergo after a lifetime of smoking. Could it be possible that a person could claim damages for the liberty they have lost as a result of a chemical addiction?

It doesn’t seem to hard to draw a substantive right to liberty out of the due process clause; but this doesn’t apply to private individuals. What doctrine of common law could give rise to a cause of action for addiction? Might it be a contract issue: Does addiction prevent a person from negotiating at arm’s length? Might it be a tort issue: Does addiction lend itself well to a medical monitoring or increased risk claim? Would it have to be statutory? If so, what would the statute look like?

And what about a person’s right to choose to become addicted? Under what circumstances do we respect this choice? When they reach the age of 18? If so, do children who become addicted have a claim under a liberty interest? Does the sort of advertising private companies do to influence people’s decision to become addicted matter?

What is the medically accepted definition of a chemical addiction? How can addiction be best defined in order to include things like heroin and nicotine but exclude things like sugar and fatty food?

We don’t allow slavery or indentured servitude in the United States; there is evidence the founders found this abborhant to their conception of liberty. Is addiction similar to these, in that a choice made in the past binds a person to another private party for the rest of thier life?

Any answers that assist with my research would be appreciated. If you have no experience with legal research, please do not feel compelled to contribute to the thread.


I have no experience with legal research so you may not want my input. I’m going to give it anyway, as i am free to do so. :slight_smile:

You should note there are two kinds of addiction - physical and mental. Physical addition occurs when the substance you are addicted to causes physical changes in your body that mean that you need more of that substance just to be normal. Mental addition means that your body doesn’t need the substance, but you have conditioned yourself mentallty to need it.

Eg nicotine inhibits your nerve cells capacity to carry impulses which means that your brain sends more amplified impulses to compensate. If you stop taking nicotine suddenly the impulses being carried by your brain are too strong and you need more nicotine to bring it back to normal. Other substances that cause physical addition are heroin, cocaine, and various amphetamines. Note that many illegal drugs are not physically addictive though.

In my opinion, people who are mentally addicted to something should have no claim to loss of liberty - they chose to condition themselves into addiction. I don’t have enough legal knowledge to offer an opinion on whether physical addiction could constitute loss of liberty though.

I appreciate the input, but I’m well aware of those differences on a vernacular level. What would be useful are medical citations or links that define those terms in a way that implies they have legal relevance.


I can’t be much of a help legally but I think we hold too tightly to the illusion of “self”. Some of the noted changes that occur under the influence of various drugs are actually reasonably minor compared to the everyday changes our body goes through. Being aroused, sleepy, cranky etc all bastly alter who we are and how capable we are of making informed consent yet nobody has ever proposed a hornyness test before getting behind the wheel. I think in the end, we need to recognise that the legal fiction of humans as rational beings who can temporarily be made insane is going to be either unworkable or unethical.