on January 10, 2013
Ive been a heroin addict for the last 18 years and have read just about every book about dope out there. While other books may better portray the visceral effect of addiction this book examines the complete process and the mental / physical circuitry that evolves into that monkey riding your back.
Although i'm a junkie I don't consider myself an idiot, nor a weak willed person. I've completed my masters, been employed with the same company for over 12 years, pay my bills, never drink and don't touch any other drugs...yet when it comes to quiting heroin my actions completely perplex even myself. This book has gone a long way toward helping me understand why I act as I do, and has opened up a new vocabulary with which to engage my therapist as a means to describe the process which leads to relapse.
This is definitely not your normal "i shot dope" confessional, but for those looking for a deeper understanding of why it is so hard to keep that needle out of your arm, this is a must read. I thank the author for using his talent and knowledge to break this material down into a format that anyone could understand.
on September 29, 2013
Dr. Marc Lewis masterfully incorporated engaging textbook style neurobiological explanations behind addiction within his "Memoirs of an Addicted Brain." Each chapter is a rich anecdote describing a different phase of Lewis' life, accompanied by the introduction of a new cause of addiction for most of the book. He explains his emotions and thought processes leading up to, during, and after each new high. After a new drug is introduced, he not only describes the pharmacological effects but also explains basic anatomy of the brain and what the processing or physiology of the particular receptor, neurotransmitter, or structure of interest would be under normal conditions.
The feel and structure of this book is an unusual and remarkable combination of explanations from both a raconteur and college lecturer. It is extraordinary and unique because Lewis is both neuroscientist and drug addict in the book. He is able to provide valuable insight that could usually be lost in translation between experimenter and lab rat. Lewis guides us through the neurology behind addiction as he reveals his first encounter with underage drinking, his temporary escape from depression via dextromethophan, sexual desires, and his experimentation with psychedelics, PCP, and eventually heroin and more. Though not an addict yet, in the first chapter, Lewis jumped straight to expressing the insecurity and curiosity that led first to drinking alcohol. He noticed a change in mood and his self-criticism finally being silenced. He switches from raconteur to college lecturer mode when he begins describing how alcohol is affecting his system by enhancing GABA transmission, which means "the inhibitory chemicals get boosted," and muffling glutamate transmission, meaning "the excitatory chemicals get hushed." His explanations are thoroughly detailed, and he provides just enough background information about brain structures and functions for the less informed readers. He emphasizes physiological effects as well as the emotion state and external situations surrounding addiction. For Lewis, he battled a constant "ache for acceptance" and a deep depression that he learned to dull with chemical substances, partially leading him to conclude that "addiction is really just a corrupted form of learning."
Even as Lewis falls down a path of crime and deceit, he manages to describe the chemical mechanisms. He recalls as an undergraduate working in a laboratory how he considered stealing morphine from an old lab fridge and then explains the part of his brain that deals with this ethical battle: "the dorsal anterior cingulated cortex is where context and judgment come together to create the will, that beam of self-direction that makes it possible to choose consciously and act morally." Here, we can see that he does not stop with just illustrating the effects of drugs while an addict is actively abusing them. Lewis goes into further detail and describes various structures and functions of the brain and ties them back to an addict's thought process, choices, and acts.
When I first took a look at this book, I had expected to learn about drug addiction in the strictest sense, but various aspects and types of addiction are covered in this novel. Lewis describes mental and emotional addiction early in his memoirs when he relays his first encounter with dextromethorphan, illustrating how "people take drugs because they're not feeling right [and] the whole point of taking drugs is to change the way you feel." He illustrates the wanting and craving of an addict through descriptions of sexual desire with the neurological culprit revealed to be neuromodulator, dopamine: "with every letter she wrote me, the dopamine pump got activated." Lewis also managed to connect and compare various types of addiction throughout this book. He did so sometimes by comparing emotional states, such as explaining how his "attitude toward LSD, a drug, was not much different from [his] zeal to connect with Lisa, a girl, thanks to a flood of dopamine in [his] ventral striatum - wanting and wanting and wanting..." Other comparisons and connections simply illustrated similar biological mechanisms, such as describing PCP as `an NMDA antagonist, like dextromethorphan and ketamine."
Readers of any background can easily understand the scientific descriptions, but the explanations are still detailed enough to not feel too simplistic. He discusses major neuroscience topics such as functions of varying sections of the brain and the roles of neuromodulators and other natural chemicals of the central nervous system while exploring neuropharmacology of substance abuse drugs. Cellular biologists, however, may not be satisfied with the level of detail in this book. Lewis focuses more on the emotional and cognitive aspects of addiction rather than the major underlying molecular mechanisms behind it. Though not extensive, Lewis does provide some information on current research and external resources in the endnotes for readers who wish to be more informed. For those interested in more complex detail, one would have to resort to textbooks or journal articles (as is the case for any scientific research). This book is not a series of case studies. It's a memoir, so high level of detail of biological pathways and mechanisms is not to be expected. The neuroscience discussed is examined with enough detail to satisfy introductory neuroscience students but explained clearly enough for anyone to understand. Ultimately, his descriptions smoothly connected neuroanatomy, basic neurophysiology, and perception.
One more note I will make is I would have liked to see more on the effects of drug addiction over time. Lewis went into sufficient detail on changes in perceptions and basic physiological pathways but provided less detail on long term effects.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It is effective and engaging, and I would definitely recommend anyone to read it. Lewis brought the understanding of addiction passed the level of recovering addicts revealing their history and cautionary tales and brought to life the biological mechanisms behind the addiction. This memoir illustrates an enthralling life story and delivers a successful merging of the mental, emotional, social, physical, and molecular aspects of addiction. The tales are heartbreaking, sometimes horrifying, and sometimes extreme, wild, and often foolish, but Lewis, a flawed but inspirational man, ultimately leaves the readers with a happy ending from a cautionary tale. His straightforward, simple, and engaging explanations of various neurological concepts will help anyone understand a little more about how our brains work. Though unfortunate, terrifying, and tragic at times, Lewis' rich history with substance abuse and addiction as well as his current knowledge and expertise of neuroscience truly made it a fascinating read.
on April 16, 2015
I am currently working as a Dialysis RN and my boyfriend is a recovering heroin addict. He was 8 months sober when I met him when he relapsed in my bathroom. I found him unconscious and blue. Luckily, being an RN, I am skilled at CPR and I kept him alive until the paramedics arrived and administered Narcan, giving him another chance at life. Seeing his decent into relapse was heartbreaking and eye opening. I witnessed firsthand the powers of this encompassing disease. This book was an excellent read, very interesting and enlightening into the thoughts of an addict and also told his experiences from a scientific perspective. It helped me come to terms with the fact that addiction, particularly to heroin, is not a moral failing in any account but a horrible disease of the brain. I found it very fascinating, raw and eye opening. Perfect book for someone looking for a more in depth perspective of the human brain and the effect of drugs on your loved ones mind. Its a very powerful read. I found myself underlining many passages and marking up my book as I read. This book really helped me come to terms with what his addiction means and how hard it really is to overcome, but also gave hope into the possibility of a brighter tomorrow after conquering addiction.
on January 3, 2015
Marc Lewis was an unhappy child with ignorant and mostly unsympathetic (but wealthy) parents who - he is anxious to tell us - are largely to blame for his addiction. Apart from this (unintended) context, the book -written of all people by an academic psychologist - is actually intriguing for the paucity of psychological insight into the causes and conditions that led to the addictive behavior. ML starts sampling ever harder drugs - first at a private academy in Vermont then at UC Berkeley - with the motivation mainly being acceptance by peers. The fun lasted as long as he had his parents' money to spend. When low on funds, Lewis gets rescued by his dad who sends him to Malaysia. There he blows a unique chance to learn about Orang Asli, spirituality or himself. At this point we are at 90% of the book and we still get no insight into the man's predicament, inner life or existential realizations. Coming out of "addiction" he is as tabula rasa as he is going into it. From here on, Lewis changes his mind (why?), becomes straight, goes to graduate school, becomes a Professor and marries his graduate student. Fait accompli.
It needs to be said that the title is not a little misleading as Lewis is NOT a neuroscientist but a psychologist; being an aficionado does not a neuroscientist make. In other words, the book begins with a huge (marketing) deception ...and then it goes down from here. As he describes his drug-taking episodes, Lewis imagines what might have been going on in his brain on opiates, dopaminergics, serotonin uptake blockers etc. As far as I can tell, these imaginings are copied straight from the tertiary literature, some of it probably wrong, and most of it utterly irrelevant in terms of providing insight into his predicament. In any case, these 'neuroscience musings' will go straight over the head of the casual reader.
What is the most amazing to me is how little Lewis seems to learn about himself. As his brain spins through the purple haze, ML seems dazed, apatthetic and confused ...all the while, a revolution in consciousness was taking place all around him, in Berkeley and San Francisco. New worlds were opening, new music and art was made, new possibilities of being with oneself and others discovered. Huston Smith wrote an entire book based on a single psilocybin experience. Ditto for Aldous Huxley and mescaline. ML goes the other, nihilistic & solipsistic, direction. Instead of opening he uses drugs to close and dumb down. Instead of insights about love, connectedness, consciousness, spirit - his world revolves around ingratiating himself with the local party crowd which seems to have no Kool Aid Electrics going on. And no Babs. Lewis gets a chance to learn to meditate but it goes in through one ear and out of the other. The book provides little insight into how Lewis managed to escape the clutches of addiction. He portrays himself as a victim of circumstances & parents but we don;t get to see the life force, the insights, the hard work which were required for his deliverance. The neuroscience part is not strong. The memoir part has few insights. There is no passion. There are no sparks. I do not recommend this book.
on July 20, 2015
A friend lent me this, and though I am at part four, I don't think I can justify continuing- his "insights" into the physical nature of addiction are interesting, but- for me, anyway- they do not outweigh his (almost) nihilistic materialism. Lewis asserts that "the mind parallels the brain... And I wish the picture were rosier... I wish this were just an exercise in biological reductionism, or neuro-scientific chauvanism, but it's not. It's the way things really work." If you find fault with this statement, this book is definitely not for you. The possibility that the author could conjure up just a glimmer of will and retrain his own brain is, in 239 pages out of 306, nowhere to be seen, and yet there is, presumably, some kind of redemption, some kind of escape from this mechanistic craving and desultory existence that, in his words, "[leads] to more repetition, less flexibility, more habit, less choice." Although the content can be interesting, the tone with which it is communicated is most often defeatist, fatalistic, and establishes over and over the causal forces to blame for his harrowing descent into addiction. Whether it stems from family, friends, lovers, anomie, or the way the brain is hard-wired, Lewis is most adept at shifting blame and finding ways to excuse or gloss over his own inability to have any modicum of agency in his story.
That said, some of his descriptions are spot-on, and the science is easy to apprehend. That, combined with the charm some will find in knowing with certainty "how things really work," will insure this book has a home on many shelves. It won't find one on mine- if I wasn't borrowing it, I'd give it away.