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.
--- from the publisher
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
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
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
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
Responses to Addiction
The First Drug Epidemic
Addiction in the First Person
Once an Addict, Always an Addict?
Voluntary Behavior, Disease, and Addiction
Addiction and Choice
Voluntary Behavior: An Engine for Change
About the Author:
Gene M. Heyman is a research psychologist at McLean Hospital and a Lecturer in Psychology at Harvard Medical School.