“Szalavitz is one of the bravest, smartest writers about addiction anywhere. Everything she writes should be read carefully — I guarantee you’ll have a lot to think about.” — Johann Hari, New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream
Addiction (no matter which form it takes) is something that is everywhere around us. No matter who you are or where you live, chances are that you know someone who struggles with some sort of addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or other substances or behaviors, even if it’s a silent struggle that no one else other than the person suffering through it knows about.
I found it to be an interesting perspective, as proposed by author, Maia Szalavitz in her new book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, that addiction is not something that is medically or psychologically based but a learning disorder (one more like autism, ADHD or dyslexia than cancer or Alzheimer’s). The more I think about it, I feel that this may be the best way to look at the issue.
Consider this, humans are a species that is in constant evolution. We are constantly learning, processing, making inferences and drawing conclusions from new information with which we are presented on a daily basis. From the moment we draw our first breath until we gasp our last we are learning, adapting and changing. Most people who struggle with addiction, begin to do so during adolescence or young adulthood, precisely that timeframe when we are seeking to escape the care and control of our childhood caretakers and become independent adults. Though we seek self-control in all of our affairs, we don’t have the wealth of experience or knowledge or often even the foresight to know how to look forward far enough to see the full implications that our actions and decisions may have on our lives many years down the road. And in our tech-savvy world, which increasingly makes it easier to have relationships and interactions at a distance and with impersonal content versus close face-to-face contact, is it really any wonder people feel more alone than ever? Lonely people who feel separated from others, who sometimes believe that they are invisible and insignificant, can be very vulnerable without knowing what exactly to do to feel reconnected to the world again. Those who are thus isolated and disconnected can often turn to unhealthy means of escaping that sad truth.
Also, here’s something to think about. Many people outgrow addiction, either with or without treatment. Why? Perhaps because they find someone they fall in love with and their life takes a new path toward a future with that person, children, and other positive aspects, leaving behind old behaviors (such as ones that are addictive) in favor of newer healthier ones.
I have often felt that addiction recovery programs seem to focus mostly on just keeping a person from relapsing into their old, destructive addiction patterns. But I’ve never heard of a program that really tries to delve back into the person’s life story to try to really flush out the root of where the behavior started and try to pick up the person’s life at that stage of development and then move incrementally forward to help them learn new behavior patterns.
Author, Maia Szalavitz, isn’t just someone who decided to research addiction off the top of her head. She is a former addict, her drugs of choice being heroin and cocaine. Her focus is to remove the stigma of addictions and allow her research to shed light on the fact that our society’s punitive response to addiction isn’t conducive to prevention or recovery efforts so that a new understanding of the issue may come to light. This, she proposes, will result in stronger methods to combat addiction and tailor recovery efforts to fit the circumstances of those who suffer from it.
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More people than ever before see themselves as addicted to, or recovering from, addiction, whether it be alcohol or drugs, prescription meds, sex, gambling, porn, or the internet. But despite the unprecedented attention, our understanding of addiction is trapped in unfounded 20th century ideas, addiction as a crime or as brain disease, and in equally outdated treatment.
Challenging both the idea of the addict’s “broken brain” and the notion of a simple “addictive personality,” Unbroken Brain offers a radical and groundbreaking new perspective, arguing that addictions are learning disorders and shows how seeing the condition this way can untangle our current debates over treatment, prevention and policy. Like autistic traits, addictive behaviors fall on a spectrum — and they can be a normal response to an extreme situation. By illustrating what addiction is, and is not, the book illustrates how timing, history, family, peers, culture and chemicals come together to create both illness and recovery- and why there is no “addictive personality” or single treatment that works for all.
Combining Maia Szalavitz’s personal story with a distillation of more than 25 years of science and research, Unbroken Brain provides a paradigm-shifting approach to thinking about addiction.
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I think this is a brilliant book, highly intelligent and well presented, too. I think everyone should really pick it up and give it a read because like I mentioned earlier, we all know someone who struggles with addiction. Shouldn’t we all do what we can to understand it so that we may be better able to help?
Do you, or someone you know, suffer from an addiction? What do you think about this novel approach to the issue?
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