Understanding Addiction Through Photography: “Expressions Of Addiction”

The study of addiction often involves quantifying personal information to make it usable in objective research. This process is an important part of developing sound science that increases understanding about gambling disorders and related addictions, and can inform the development of effective prevention, treatment and education efforts. In efforts to raise awareness about addictive disorders and address the stigma surrounding them, the arts can help translate scientific topics into compelling educational information for a broader audience.

One example of the arts helping to translate science is “Expressions of Addiction,” an online collection of photographs taken by addictions researcher and award-winning photographerDr. Howard J. Shaffer. Expressions of Addiction was created to increase awareness and understanding of addiction and contribute to community programs and resources to prevent and treat addiction. The exhibit features pictures of people in various stages and expressions of addiction, including problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling, along with descriptions of how addiction has affected their lives. Shaffer, a licensed psychologist and director of the Division on Addictions at Cambridge Health Alliance, is one of the foremost researchers on gambling disorders.

Each series of photographs on the Expressions of Addiction site presents one person’s story of living with addiction, in their own words, usually beginning in childhood and following their life through times of struggle and recovery. Although the individuals featured vary in age, gender, ethnicity and addictive behavior, all the stories echo similar themes of compulsion, loss of control, and dealing with the consequences of addiction and the challenges of recovery.

Shaffer retired from photography in 1974 when he began his career as a clinician and researcher specializing in the study of addiction. Previously he worked as a freelance photographer, presenting his work in numerous shows and winning two Best in Show ribbons in the early 1970s. Expressions of Addiction brings Shaffer’s two careers together, presenting the reality of individuals struggling with addiction through the art of photography.

More information on Shaffer’sacademic careeris available on the Division on Addictions website. For more information on his photography and on the Expressions of Addiction project, visithis Artist pageon theExpressions of Addiction website.

Do you have thoughts on understanding addiction through the arts? Share your ideas and questions with us in the comments section below.

NCRG staffIn the Newsbehavioral addictioncomorbiditydisordered gamblingHarvard Medical Schoolstigma