- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 6 hours and 23 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Original recording
- Publisher: The Great Courses
- Audible.com Release Date: March 6, 2015
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00UBLMCS6
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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The Addictive Brain Audible Audiobook – Original recording
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The lecturer, Professor Polk, speaks at a slow pace, so I sped up the course by accelerating his speech to 1.25 times normal. I can tell you there were several professors at the Cal I wish I could have done that to! Nevertheless, the material is great. He goes into the neurochemistry of the brain in order to give you an idea of how the brain works, and then walks you through each drug to analyze which receptors the drug binds to in the brain, and how and why it has the effect it does, as well as how and why it has the effect it does. As he does so, he frequently provides a history of the drug as used in human society, as well as the process by which it became isolated, refined, used, and then (almost invariably) abused.
The drugs covered are:
Amphetamine (and meta-Amphetamine)
Morphine (& Opiates)
Gambling, Porn, and Video Games
Of course, the last 3 aren't drugs, but of course, can also be abused and result in addiction. I'm surprised TV watching and internet addiction isn't on the list, as I'm sure you and I can think of people who exhibit withdrawal symptoms when either of those aren't available.
Fundamentally, addiction is an unintended consequence of our brain's ability to learn. You can call it a bug o a security hole if you like. Addictive substances (and behaviors) create a feedback loop which makes use of the dopamine feedback loop to trigger "this was better than expected!" learning. This leads to an unconstrained craving simultaneous with a reduction of the inhibition circuits in the brain. Each drug potentially triggers this in a different way, but your vulnerability to addiction is also highly genetic.
Each section also discusses ways for the addict to break his or her addiction. It's by no means easy and the success rate is dismaying low (none of the drugs appear to have a surefire way to achieve better than 40% quit rates!), but Professor Polk speaks with compassion about how the process works.
All in all, I learned quite a bit in this audio course, and can recommend it.
This is a primer on addiction, so serious students of the topic should probably find something else to read. For people like myself, with limited prior knowledge of the subject, this is an excellent overview. As with most Great Courses titles, the information is presented in a straightforward, accessible, but academic way.
From this course, I learned about the way the brain deals with pleasure and rewards, including how various chemicals in the brain participate in the development of an addiction. In the past, I have been somewhat skeptical about addiction, especially regarding non-chemical addictions (it seems that every bad behavior today is somehow cast a an addiction). This course convinced me that addiction is real, even for some non-chemical behaviors.
Polk starts off by defining what he means by addiction in this book, the stricter definition of actual physical addiction, with continued use of the addictive substance despite serious negative consequences, and often despite a real desire and effort on the part of the addict to quit. Then he explains what's going on in the body, in creating and maintaining addiction. This includes the research in twin studies and in animal models--mostly mice, who are surprisingly genetically similar to us.
Polk also looks specifically at some of our favorite addictive substances (alcohol, tobacco, and nicotine), as well as those that cause us the most public distress and public policy problems (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana) (okay, marijuana belongs in both lists, really). They each have their own distinguishing features and problems, but they all also illuminate the larger problem of addiction.
And finally, he also looks at behavior addictions, such as gambling, and why yes, those can be real, physical addictions, too.
He's clear, he's informative, and I found it enormously helpful in increasing my understanding.
I bought this audiobook.