UNBROKEN BRAIN by Maia Szalavitz


A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction
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A proposal for a new way of looking at drug addiction that offers a fresh approach to managing it.

Szalavitz (co-author: Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered, 2010, etc.), a neuroscience and addiction journalist for TIME and other publications, argues that addiction is a learned pattern of behavior that involves the use of soothing activities for a purpose such as coping with stress. In this view, simple exposure to a drug cannot cause addiction, for the person taking the drug must find the experience pleasant or useful and must deliberately repeat the experience until the brain processes the experience as automatic and habitual. The author cites the work of numerous neuroscience researchers that support this view, but what makes this presentation different from a straightforward scientific report is that Szalavitz is herself a recovered addict (“by 1988, my life had narrowed to the point of a needle”). She writes frankly about her background, from a precocious child with Asperger’s syndrome to an academic star to a young woman facing a mandatory minimum 15-year to life sentence on a charge of selling cocaine. In a heartfelt manner, she exposes her own fears and pain, her problems with her parents, her social difficulties, and her beliefs about being unlovable. She argues that failing to see the true nature of addiction as a developmental problem has prevented society from establishing effective drug policy and approaches to prevention and treatment. She offers New Zealand as an example of a country that has developed a drug policy that reduces addiction risk, and she looks approvingly at certain innovative nonpunitive approaches of some organizations in the United States. The relaxation of marijuana laws gets her approval, as well.

A dense blending of self-exposure, surprising statistics, and solid science reporting that presents addiction as a misunderstood coping mechanism, a problem whose true nature is not yet recognized by policymakers or the public.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-05582-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2016


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