After years of experience as drugs addict, Judith Grisel got sober and embraced the chance to scientifically study the mechanisms underneath addictive substances, and their consequences on behavior. Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction is her accessible and authoritative guide through a taxonomy of stimulants, depressants, uppers and downers, alcoholics, plants, liquids, pills, and needles.
Addiction today is epidemic and catastrophic. The personal and social consequences of this widespread and relentless urge are almost too large to grasp. In the United States alone some 16 percent of the population aged twelve and above meet criteria for a substance use disorder. In purely financial terms, it costs more than five times as much as AIDS and twice as much as cancer. The book highlights the current knowledge neuroscience has brought on this topic. How are substances transmitted into cells, synapses and influence behavior, central nerve system, and impact movements, speech, memory, fetus’ health, etcetera? When any drug has an effect, it’s due to the drug’s chemical actions on brain structures. For most drugs of abuse, we know precisely which structures are modified, and this gives us a really good start to understand how they make us feel the way they do. Yet, there’s still much we don’t know yet.
The bottom line in is this book is that there can never be enough drug. Because of the brain’s tremendous capacity to adapt, it’s impossible for a regular user to get high, and the best a voracious appetite for more drug can hope to accomplish is to stave off withdrawal. This situation is best recognized as a dead end, in the most literal sense. But to wait for a biomedical or any outside cure is to miss asking questions of ourselves and considering our own role in the epidemic. While we are at it, instead of wringing our hands, we might try holding one another’s.
About the author
Judith Grisel, Ph.D., is a behavioral neuroscientist and a professor of psychology at Bucknell University. She has been awarded more than a million dollars in federal funding to pursue research on the causes of drug abuse. Her work focuses on what in the brain predisposes people to addiction, and her most recent paper revealed a genetic risk for alcoholism in women.