The determinants of addiction: a case-study of multidisciplinary working to develop understanding of substance use and gambling

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


The determinants of ‘addicted behaviour’ are neither clear nor well-understood: for example, what allows some people to engage in addictive behaviours without developing problems whilst others experience very serious difficulties? This poster reflects on the challenges in a project analysing this problem from a multidisciplinary perspective.



Discipline experts from ten subjects spanning the natural and social sciences prepared reviews on the determinants of substance use and gambling for different transition stages (e.g. the transition from risky to harmful use). On the basis of these reviews, a science writer developed synthesis reports and logic models of the multidisciplinary findings for discussion in biannual meetings and frequent teleconferences.



We have identified six key challenges of our work: 1) the contrasting worldviews of different disciplines, 2) the difficulties of managing dominant epistemologies, 3) divergent disciplinary language that hinders effective communication, 4) making decisions when negotiating so many diverse voices, 5) maintaining active engagement from partners in a geographically disparate team, and 6) the development of informative logic models that recognise the complex relationships at play. The science writer synthesised evidence across the disciplines to identify points of convergence and divergence for further exploration. Whole team and smaller face-to-face meetings between experts and the science writer have been important for overcoming disciplinary boundaries.



Sharing learning from multidisciplinary projects is key to facilitating future multidisciplinary work in the addictions field. We identify four recommendations from our work: 1) frequent communication in different formats between disciplinary partners is essential, 2) shared definitions of key concepts (such as ‘determinant’) must be negotiated from the outset, 3) multiple approaches should be used to translate initial open-mindedness into multidisciplinary output, and 4) a science writer can be used to synthesise evidence but it must be acknowledged that they bring their own disciplinary biases.


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Dr Lucy Gell