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Rethinking Addiction with Maia Szalavitz

by Scott Barry Kaufman, September 6, 2017

“Addiction is not a sin or a choice. It’s also not a chronic brain disease.” – Maia Szalavitz

This week we’re glad to welcome Maia Szalavitz to the podcast! Maia Szalavitz is one of the premier American journalists covering addiction and drugs. She is a co-author of Born for Love and The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, as well as a writer for TIME.com, VICE, the New York Times, Scientific American Mind, Elle, Psychology Today and Marie Claire among others. Her latest book is Unbroken Brain, which challenges the idea of the addict’s “broken brain” and the simplistic notion of an “addictive personality”.

The key themes of our conversation include:

  •  The personal nature of her book and how emergent science has helped her understand her past
  • Where the brain is and isn’t to blame in the rise of addiction in individuals
  • “Addiction is not a sin or a choice. It’s also not a chronic brain disease.”
  • Why many addictive behaviors are adaptive, and the distinction between an “addiction” and a “dependence”
  • “Traits that we think are useless can be useful in some settings.”
  • Why she advocates for a shift from belief-cased addiction treatment (ex. 12-step program) to evidence-based treatment
  • “We all learn to become who we are.” We end the conversation with a discussion of what this means to Maia and how we can all benefit from reflecting on this idea in different facets of our lives.

Maia offers a paradigm-shifting take on thinking about addiction, and we think you will learn a lot from this episode. Enjoy!


2 Responses to “Rethinking Addiction with Maia Szalavitz”

  1. The Learning Systems Aspect is vital, in the role of treatment. Education and Perception are brilliant perspectives to bring to recovery models. Such a worthwhile and necessary discussion. The social fear factor’s present and lack of appropriate care to address mental illness, addiction, and even addiction even to psych meds (with serious side effects and withdrawal -many which are based on tranquilizing effects .. ), and pain management, in the scope of Neuro Diversity and Human and Cultural Diversity is gigantic subject. Please continue these conversations, writing and documentation.

  2. I found it interesting that Maia Szalavitz says, addiction is a realignment of priorities or “falling in love” with a drug instead of a person.

    I’ve known several people that suffered addiction to alcohol and or drugs. In all of these cases, their relationship with alcohol/ drugs began early… and not because they were partying with other teens. Instead they were using it to soothe them when there wasn’t someone around to connect to, when they had trouble connecting to others. Connection is such an important part of human existence. In Bruce Alexander’s “Rat Park” experiments, instead of putting a rat alone in a box and seeing how many times it would push the button for cocaine, he placed rats in a village with friends and activities. In this scenario, the rat tried the drugged water, but chose the pure water. Drugs are only a substitute for connection.

    Sometimes I tease that “my addiction” with podcasts began when I was living overseas. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Podcasts were a way to have thoughtful discussions (albeit in my head) with people of my culture and in my own language. At the time was the best form of human connection I could get. Now I have returned to the states and feel like I’m having reverse culture shock. I still find it difficult to connect.

    Szalavitz also said, “Addiction has to involve compulsion and harm.” Perhaps it is harmful when any substance replaces the real thing.

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