An argument against classifying addiction as a chronic “brain disease.”
Armed with scientific data and plenty of case studies, developmental neuroscientist and former addict Lewis (Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs, 2012) enters the ongoing addiction nomenclature debate with an intellectually authoritative yet controversial declaration that substance and behavioral dependencies are swiftly and deeply learned via the “neural circuitry of desire.” The author blames the medical community for developing a disease-model juggernaut derived primarily from clinical data rather than biological and psychological research on brain changes and altered synapses. Lewis believes this conceptualization pegged the affliction as a disease instead of what he deems a “developmental cascade and a detrimental result of habitual behaviors.” As increasing numbers of medical communities have embraced the addiction model this way, he writes, treatment methodologies often become ineffective as well. Lewis further criticizes the Alcoholics Anonymous strategy and its emphasis on an addict’s ability to surrender to their “powerlessness” over a compulsion rather than promoting personal empowerment toward self-sustainability. Once past a somewhat overly clinical neuroscientific discussion on the brain’s plasticity, Lewis introduces biographical testimonies of Americans struggling with addiction that both humanize and reinforce his standpoint. Awash in the separate throes of heroin, methamphetamine, opiates, alcohol, and binge-eating compulsions, the cases are complemented with uplifting updates on their sobriety efforts, which the author prefers to call a “developmental journey” toward recovery. Lewis’ statement that addiction is “uncannily normal” likely stems from his experiences as a former narcotic addict who overcame a decadelong drug habit at age 30. While definite fodder for debate, the author remains firm in his belief that in order to fully process the addiction spectrum, we must “gaze directly at the point where experience and biology meet.”
A thought-provoking, industry-minded, and polarizing perspective on the neurocircuitry of human desire and compulsion.