Book Review: Unbroken Brain

Unbroken Brain  
Maia Szalavitz  
St. Martin’s Press 2016  
352 pp.  

I found this book fascinating. I’m an alcoholic and central to all the mess that surrounds such a condition is a disturbing existential disconnect. I’ve referred to it in the past as “getting out of integrity with oneself” or I’ve explained it as “knowing that there’s a problem but denying that there’s a problem while all the time knowing that denial is just more proof that there’s most definitely a problem”. It’s a very disturbing emotional and intellectual place to be lost in and has been an issue that I’ve pondered for the good many years of my sobriety. I’ve no interest in being defined as a recovering alcoholic but it does give me some insight into addiction and what may be involved in treating it effectively and has certainly helped me to get a better grip on the issue.  

The author of the book Unbroken Brain, Maia Szalavitz, gives a much needed re-examination of addiction and its treatment rather than thinking of addiction simply as a disease or as a moral failure. She points out that there is no precise scientific definition of addiction nor any identified common chemical in any substance that can be said to cause addiction. Nor, indeed, is there such a thing as an ‘addictive personality’. Rather, she insists, addiction at root is a learning disorder. "Label addiction as merely biological, psychological, social, or cultural and it cannot be understood; incorporate the importance of learning, context, and development, however, and it all becomes much more explicable and tractable.” She points out that the majority of those who start drinking or taking drugs do not develop a dependency but rather tend to move on from the drugs or learn to drink or consume in moderation. Some 10% - 20% do become addicts and nearly all of those have suffered trauma at some point in their lives. She found herself numbered those figures, acquiring a cocaine and heroin addiction in her 20s that she describes in harrowing detail.  

This is not to say that addiction is ‘only’ a learning disorder. Much depends on when the activity starts — to start while the brain is young and still developing adds an elevated level of risk. Trauma, poverty, peer pressure, stress, chemicals and all the usual factors one thinks of as being involved in addiction come into play but as the brain learns to use drugs, alcohol, gambling etc., as a soothing exercise, it cannot just unlearn the practice when negative results are generated.  

This was the experience that thoroughly confused me in my days as a drunk. I had finally gotten to the point where I knew that I didn’t want to drink any more but somehow I felt compelled against my own wishes. I stopped drinking at one point and decided to go to an AA meeting. I hated it. It seemed to be a lot of miserable people almost frantically indulging in caffeine, sugar or tobacco — or all three. I never went back. I stayed sober for six months and relapsed. I drank in moderation for a while but the consumption increased. Finally, after a number of years I stopped again and now, some sixteen years later, I’m not interested in booze. But I never went back to AA. The author herself admits that many aspects of AA and the twelve-step program that is the basis for many recovery programs were very helpful to her. But she is also highly critical of its dominance in the recovery world and points out that many other recovery programs based on a more scientific approach have as good, or better, recovery results. She is particularly critical of the AA notion of needing to ‘hit bottom’. I know that I never hit bottom but I did know I was in trouble. As is pointed out in the book each addict may respond to many different treatments but one one-size fits all of AA and related programs and the harsh criminalization on behalf of ‘the war on drugs’ have more of a track record of failure that success. In fact, one of the distinguishing marks of addiction is its resistance to punishment. Instead, a program of harm-reduction has seemed to have the most successful results. 

The book is thoroughly researched and remarkably free of jargon. I shall be interested to see what the medical community makes of it but it rang very clearly for me. For maybe the first time it seemed that a clear light was shone on this condition, and many mysteries cleared up. It also made me feel that I no longer had to reconcile the idea of being the victim of a disease while at the same time being a moral failure. 

If you have an addiction, or if you know someone who has, I recommend this book. Highly. 

13 comments

  • JMW
    JMW
    What a fascinating post, Mick. Thank you for sharing some of your story, and for calling attention to this book. I'll have to read it.

    What a fascinating post, Mick. Thank you for sharing some of your story, and for calling attention to this book. I'll have to read it.

  • Brian
    Brian San Luis Obispo
    I do have a friend who is a recovering addict (both alcohol and drug-use). Thank you for the suggestion, I shall take you up on it and gift my friend a copy. It is a terrible struggle, especially in the beginning. I believe her hardest part was coming to the realization that she, in fact, had a problem. Thankfully, between a deep faith and strength of character, she has pulled herself out of that "hole" she found herself in; by the grace of God, she has remained sober and I pray she continues.

    I do have a friend who is a recovering addict (both alcohol and drug-use). Thank you for the suggestion, I shall take you up on it and gift my friend a copy. It is a terrible struggle, especially in the beginning. I believe her hardest part was coming to the realization that she, in fact, had a problem. Thankfully, between a deep faith and strength of character, she has pulled herself out of that "hole" she found herself in; by the grace of God, she has remained sober and I pray she continues.

  • Marge Simon
    Marge Simon
    I'm not an addict (unless writing is an addiction) but I have known alcoholics --some succeeded in staying off the sauce and some didn't. I very much like what she says about dispelling the old believes and adages about alcoholism/addition. Disregard what the AA has been saying about "hitting rock bottom" and so on. Thanks, it looks like an interesting read, even if you don't know anyone who would benefit from the book at this time.

    I'm not an addict (unless writing is an addiction) but I have known alcoholics --some succeeded in staying off the sauce and some didn't. I very much like what she says about dispelling the old believes and adages about alcoholism/addition. Disregard what the AA has been saying about "hitting rock bottom" and so on. Thanks, it looks like an interesting read, even if you don't know anyone who would benefit from the book at this time.

  • Marge Simon
    Marge Simon
    Oops I wrote "addition" --there is nothing wrong with learning to add. Just so the numbers don't add up to addiction! Marge

    Oops I wrote "addition" --there is nothing wrong with learning to add. Just so the numbers don't add up to addiction!

    Marge

  • Mike Rooney
    Mike Rooney USA
    This is excellent article, thank you for the share! This is what I am looking for, hope in future you will continue sharing such an superb work. [url=https://www.celebsmoviejackets.com/the-falcon-and-the-winter-soldier-sam-wilson-bomber-jacket]The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Sam Wilson Bomber Jacket[/url]

    This is excellent article, thank you for the share! This is what I am looking for, hope in future you will continue sharing such an superb work.
    The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Sam Wilson Bomber Jacket

  • Lydia Rios
    Lydia Rios USA
    Unbroken Brain is the best book for the people who is suffering from mental health. You don’t need to take tension about these things that effects your mind as [url=https://essayreviewuniverce.com/rush-my-essay-com-review/]Rushmyessay review[/url] also have mentioned that people decreases their life by taking tensions.

    Unbroken Brain is the best book for the people who is suffering from mental health. You don’t need to take tension about these things that effects your mind as Rushmyessay review also have mentioned that people decreases their life by taking tensions.

  • David Millar
    David Millar USA
    A very excellent blog post. I am thankful for your blog post. I have found a lot of approaches after visiting your post. [url=https://www.filmstaroutfits.com/The-Wanderers-Jacket]Wanderers jackets[/url]

    A very excellent blog post. I am thankful for your blog post. I have found a lot of approaches after visiting your post.
    Wanderers jackets

  • Simone Espinoza
    Simone Espinoza USA
    I think this book is one of the best book that you have written. You actually deserve award for this book because people really appreciated it as [url=https://www.wigstorehairandbeautycanada.ca/collections/wigs-toronto]Wigs Toronto[/url] also write in their article about your this book and gave you a title of emotional writing expert.

    I think this book is one of the best book that you have written. You actually deserve award for this book because people really appreciated it as Wigs Toronto also write in their article about your this book and gave you a title of emotional writing expert.

  • Arbert Joe
    Arbert Joe
    You don’t need to take tension about these things that affect your mind as Tiger King Joe Exotic also has mentioned that people decrease their life by taking tensions.

    You don’t need to take tension about these things that affect your mind as Tiger King Joe Exotic also has mentioned that people decrease their life by taking tensions.

  • preyasi saini
    preyasi saini
    innovate to integrate dependable technology and human ingenuity with a purpose to attain the highest level of customer satisfaction as a service provider. appliances rental company in gurgaon apartments on lease golf course road gurgaon

    innovate to integrate dependable technology and human ingenuity with a purpose to attain the highest level of customer satisfaction as a service provider.
    appliances rental company in gurgaon
    apartments on lease golf course road gurgaon

  • Harper Ellis
    Harper Ellis USA
    UN broken brain is a book that is by Maia Szalavitz in year 2016 by the St. Martin press that is containing the 352 pages. The book has found to be fantastic with the mess of transferring the conditions of [url=https://www.jamaicaoceanviewvilla.com/]Jamaica all-inclusive Villas[/url] with the extinguish disconnect contact and the strengths.

    UN broken brain is a book that is by Maia Szalavitz in year 2016 by the St. Martin press that is containing the 352 pages. The book has found to be fantastic with the mess of transferring the conditions of Jamaica all-inclusive Villas with the extinguish disconnect contact and the strengths.

  • Mics Lay
    Mics Lay
    providing accounts of all ranges on our platform is to give customers what they demand and what they deserve. [url=https://csgosmurfnation.com/]cheap csgo accounts[/url] [url=https://csgosmurfnation.com/product/rust-accounts/]rust accounts for sale[/url] [url=https://csgosmurfnation.com/gta-5-accounts/]buy gta 5 accounts[/url] [url=https://csgosmurfnation.com/valorant-accounts/]valorant accounts[/url]

    providing accounts of all ranges on our platform is to give customers what they demand and what they deserve.
    cheap csgo accounts
    rust accounts for sale
    buy gta 5 accounts
    valorant accounts

  • Cameran Clements
    Cameran Clements USA
    detaching and deleting of something from or thing is good way of making primary rule of climax. ASP net with 4.0 hosting is about web and [url=https://www.atome.sg/blog/how-does-robot-vacuum-cleaner-singapore-review-help-to-buy-one]robot vacuum cleaner singapore[/url] is about help and helping or way.

    detaching and deleting of something from or thing is good way of making primary rule of climax. ASP net with 4.0 hosting is about web and robot vacuum cleaner singapore is about help and helping or way.

Add comment