Will We Ever Understand Addiction?

Daphne Merkin in The New York Times:

Carl Erik Fisher’s new book, “The Urge: Our History of Addiction,” follows two journeys: One is a memoir of his own addiction to alcohol (he grew up with two alcoholic parents), and the other is a detailed overview of the approaches that have been used to understand, control and treat addiction over time. This last includes the relatively contemporary idea of “recovery,” which suggests that it is possible, with the right medications, such as naloxone, buprenorphine or methadone, and thoughtful care, to break its hold.

Fisher, having decided to study the psychology and neuroscience of addiction while he was studying to be a psychiatrist, writes from inside the hall of mirrors that discussions of addiction can often turn into. “The field seemed to be in chaos,” he observes in his introduction. “Scientists and other scholars seemed bitterly divided, always talking past one another. Some insisted that addiction was primarily a brain disease. Others claimed that this brain-centric view blinded us to the psychological, cultural and social dimensions, including trauma and systems of oppression.” Fisher then proceeds to wade bravely into the muck of information and theories to try to give us a more lucid view of a disease that has often been attributed to “a stark binary … a confusing middle ground between free choice and total loss of control.”

More here.