In a book sure to inspire controversy, Gene Heyman argues that conventional wisdom about addiction—that it is a disease, a compulsion beyond conscious control—is wrong.
Drawing on psychiatric epidemiology, addicts’ autobiographies, treatment studies, and advances in behavioral economics, Heyman makes a powerful case that addiction is voluntary. He shows that drug use, like all choices, is influenced by preferences and goals. But just as there are successful dieters, there are successful ex-addicts. In fact, addiction is the psychiatric disorder with the highest rate of recovery. But what ends an addiction?
At the heart of Heyman’s analysis is a startling view of choice and motivation that applies to all choices, not just the choice to use drugs. The conditions that promote quitting a drug addiction include new information, cultural values, and, of course, the costs and benefits of further drug use. Most of us avoid becoming drug dependent, not because we are especially rational, but because we loathe the idea of being an addict.
Heyman’s analysis of well-established but frequently ignored research leads to unexpected insights into how we make choices—from obesity to McMansionization—all rooted in our deep-seated tendency to consume too much of whatever we like best. As wealth increases and technology advances, the dilemma posed by addictive drugs spreads to new products. However, this remarkable and radical book points to a solution. If drug addicts typically beat addiction, then non-addicts can learn to control their natural tendency to take too much.
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Gene M. Heyman is a research psychologist at McLean Hospital and a Lecturer in Psychology at Harvard Medical School.Review:
This is an important book. In clear and compelling prose Heyman lays out evidence from real-world observation and psychological and pharmacological laboratories that addiction is a choice not a disease. He shows that the causes of addiction, its control, and its potential reduction are the same as the causes, control, and reduction of all voluntary behavior. The book has the potential to revolutionize the behavior of anyone involved in the control of addiction including, most importantly, addicts themselves.
--Howard Rachlin, author of The Science of Self-Control
Most medical practitioners believe that addiction is a disease. By showing that self-destructive drug consumption actually responds to information and incentives, Gene Heyman's path breaking book should make us rethink our conventional, and inadequate, drug policies.
--David Laibson, Harvard University
The idea that addiction is a disease is an article of faith in the study of drug and alcohol dependence, providing the foundation for much of the treatment and public policy related to addiction since the early 1900s. In [Addiction], psychologist Gene Heyman dismantles this time-honored assumption, arguing that addiction is first and foremost governed by personal choice, and does not therefore fit clinical conceptions of behavioral illness.
--Charlie Gillis (Maclean's 2009-05-26)
We have a justice system that treats drug use as a malevolent act of will (to be punished) and a medical profession that treats it as an unfortunate disease (to be cured). Who is right? In a magnificent new book, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice, Gene M. Heyman, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School, argues that it is not his fellow medical professionals...Heyman shows that the ordinary dynamics of human decision-making are sufficient to bring addiction into line with what we know about other, non-addictive behaviors..."No one chooses to be an addict," as the saying goes. Mr Heyman shows that this is wrong--or at least that this is the wrong way of getting at the problem...Maybe nobody would choose to be an addict. But being an addict is not what substance abusers are choosing. They are choosing a momentary action, not a lifetime identity. This is a rich book that reverberates far beyond the field of addiction studies. Attentive readers will find in it lessons about debt-financed consumerism, environmental spoliation and the whole, vast range of self-destructive behavior that we engage in out of self-interest.
--Christopher Caldwell (Financial Times 2009-06-12)
Psychologist Heyman argues that addiction involves no "involuntariness" or "compulsiveness," but that addicts tend to use "local book-keeping" instead of aiming at a "global equilibrium." So for them, the (rationally) anticipated pleasure of the next dose weighs more than the (rationally) anticipated pleasure of a drug-free week, or month, or life. (Compare a dieter who scoffs a chocolate cake.) This generalizes to the slightly terrifying proposition: "It is possible to continue to make the best choice from a local perspective and end up at the worst possible outcome." Luckily, Heyman concludes, what is voluntary can be changed--but only if it is recognized as voluntary.
--Steven Poole (The Guardian 2009-06-20)
Heyman's main target is the conception of addiction as a form of compulsion which leaves people with no choice: he points out that people not only have a choice, but that they regularly exercise that choice in response to their circumstances. He spends a good deal of time explaining how it is possible that people can make bad self-destructive choices voluntarily...In addition to its helpful but brief survey of the history, experience, and science of addiction and its treatment, the main value of Heyman's book lies in its setting out of evidence for his view using relapse rates from large scientific surveys that include those who are not in treatment. The book will be of interest to most researchers in addiction, those who work in mental health treatment and policy, people with addictions and their families and friends.
--Christian Perring (Metapsychology 2009-06-23)
Drawing from behavioral economics, Heyman shows how the failure to sacrifice short-term gains (getting high) for long-term gains (sobriety-aided productivity) is endemic to a consumer culture, and how important a person's social context is to reining in the penchant for pleasure...His approach is refreshing, avoiding false dilemmas about free will and biological determinism.
--Gary Greenberg (New Scientist 2009-07-25)
Provocative and engaging...What Heyman is offering, in effect, is a global theory of addiction, with elegant and seemingly irrefutable answers for all the great imponderables in the field: why people start abusing substances, why most of them stop by the age of 30 and why a smaller percentage end up relapsing...How you will react to this book depends very much on what you think about free will and personal responsibility. There is, however, one point on which all readers will agree: Heyman's challenge to the disease concept of addiction is both coherent and provocative. The result is a readable book that will have you thinking about the choices people make and the choices societies make for them.
--Jessica Warner (Globe and Mail 2009-08-15)
Heyman's book is interesting and controversial...There's lots of good sense about drug addiction in Heyman's book, and it can be read with profit by general readers and specialists.
--Bruce Alexander (Times Higher Education 2009-11-19)
An important and provocative book...Heyman mounts a devastating assault on the brain-based model of addiction. Not that he views addiction as independent of the brain--no serious person could even entertain such a claim. What he rejects, however, is the notion that excessive drug or alcohol consumption is an irresistible act wholly beyond the user's control, as the term "addiction," commonly understood, implies...Addiction: A Disorder of Choice is an invaluable tutorial in how to think about drug addiction...Addiction should be required reading for anyone who treats patients, researches addiction, or devises policy surrounding drug-related crime.
--Sally Satel (New Republic online 2010-03-15)
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