Book Corner 2022.17

by Judith Grisel

Informative book about addiction by a neuroscientist – and former addict.

Grisel wrote her thesis on the mechanism by which morphine is more addictive in familiar contexts than in novel contexts; a kind of Pavlovian effect triggers an anticipatory process in the brain. This process, dubbed “the b process”, is the brain’s effort to maintain stasis in response to “the a process”, the effects of the drug itself. This is the key to Grisel’s model of addiction, the graph of which she would get tattooed on her body if she ever wanted to get a tattoo. A drug floods the brain with a certain effect, and the brain in response tries to fight back, to counterbalance it. After more and more instances of taking the drug, the “b process” becomes stronger, lasting longer and kicking in sooner. So think of the drug’s effect as “the good feeling”; this means you’re going to get more and more “bad feeling”, sooner, heavier, and lasting longer, until you’ve got a case of classic addiction: you’re no longer taking the drug to feel good. You’re taking it not to feel bad.

The chapters each deal with a different category of drug, based on how it achieves its effects. I read the chapter on alcohol with interest, as I dabble sometimes with the idea of stopping drinking altogether. The more I think about it, the more I feel that regular imbibing is really not such a good idea. Counting alcoholism as one of her past addictions, Grisel is strong in her condemnation of it, and heavy are her lamentations of its ubiquity and heavy advertisement. But I feel she’s remiss in not discussing its central place in so many cultures for so many centuries – people have practically bathed in the stuff, and continue to do so, all over Europe and beyond. Wine accompanies every meal as a matter of course. Is this stuff really so bad for you? Why has it persisted? And she doesn’t discuss its value as a social lubricant. She deals with it merely as a depressive, a downer, and wonders why people want to get depressed and “dimmed” whenever it’s time to celebrate something. But booze is only technically a downer. For me its value is in the way it greases the wheels of interaction with other people. She never mentions this.

Poor Grisel. You really do feel for her… her addiction is still a real living thing. She misses pot so much, and she is so jealous of people who can drink one or two drinks and stop. They absolutely confound her. She sees her husband peruse a menu of microbrews, which lists the alcohol content of each, and can’t understand why it isn’t an easy choice of picking the most alcoholic one. A coworker mentions leaving an event after only two drinks because she has to work in the morning, and Grisel can’t fathom what one thing has to do with the other. I mean, of course she understands these things on an intellectual level, but she can’t make them jibe with her own experience. When she was a drinker, she DRANK.

Meanwhile, I wonder how Dr. Carl L. Hart of Drug Use for Grownups is doing these days…

Funny, I read that book in October of last year, but never posted a review of it. On purpose? Was I afraid of having such a book on my blog?

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