Debating Addiction as a Disease Continues to Gain Momentum

4505714773_de110b8be3_zIn 1976 when my sobriety began, I was grateful to find the 12 steps of AA. I bought into the addiction as a disease and rarely thought about the concept. But I also have depression which is a disease that I have to fight daily. So I have an addiction that the 12 steps healed and which keep me on the path of recovery. But the 12 steps don’t heal my depression. So I’m open to looking at addiction in new ways.

I am an alcoholic and I will always be an alcoholic. And I’m OK with that. I have the 12 steps and the God of my understanding. But I fight my depression daily with no clear road-map on what to do.

Maia Szalavitz is the author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

1   From My Life as 3D: “Unbroken Brain: A New, Forward-Thinking Book on Addiction”:

Maia Szalavitz is a fabulous writer who has penned a wonderful, very forward-thinking book about addiction. She introduces us to some new theories about addiction, several of which may have people re-examining the way they’ve thought about one of the most prevalent and deadliest problems in America today.

Szalavitz sets out to show that addiction isn’t a choice or moral failing. “But it’s not a chronic, progressive brain disease like Alzheimer’s, either,” she notes. “Instead, addiction is a developmental disorder–a problem involving timing and learning, more similar to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia than it is to mumps or cancer.” Yes, Szalavitz is blazing new trails here.

The author contends that “addiction doesn’t just happen to people because they come across a particular chemical and begin taking it regularly. It is learned and has a history rooted in their individual, social, and cultural development.” She adds that the addicted brain is not “broken,” as many other researchers and writers have suggested. Instead, she says, the addicted brain has “simply undergone a different course of development….addiction is what you might call a wiring difference, not necessarily a destruction of tissue.”

Read more here.

2.  From Kirkus Book Reviews: “Unbroken Brain“:

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.

Read more here.

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