The increased medicalization of traits and behaviors signifies a society eager for more humane approaches to social problems such as drug addiction. Yet, scholars have only begun to understand how medicalization processes might perpetuate inequality. One type of disparity could be symbolic if media campaigns represent people differently. For example, to what extent does the neuroscience approach define all addicts as patients suffering a brain disease? Our paper begins to address this question by analyzing documentary films between 1991 and 2008. We found evidence of symbolic inequality by race in both the representation of addicts and explanations of their addictions. White addicts were portrayed as patients suffering disease and in need of treatment despite their heavy criminal involvement. Overall, minorities were under-represented in medicalized narratives. When depicted, minority addicts were discussed with criminal narratives, highlighting personal choice, deviance and state control. We end by linking our work to debates on the medicalization of drug addiction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Health(social science)