Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction-Judith Grisel

The brilliant addicted brain from which this book emanates makes for intriguing, in-depth and insightful reading. Not that she needs my stamp of approval, but early in the book, I knew she understood addiction at a depth that only another suffering addict can:
“As far back as I can remember, I felt hemmed in, frustrated by imposed limits and my own limitations. Longing for other, for something else, is at the core of my experience of self. Even today, below the persona of nurturing friend, committed partner, determined scientist and adoring parent is a heartbreaking desire to embrace oblivion.”

Only a true addict speaks in these terms and knows this allure. This is the dance of all addicts, no matter if you are 30 days sober or 30 years sober.
Grisel is a best selling author, internationally renowned behavioral neuroscientist. She has spent over 30 years studying addiction and is a person in long-term recovery.

If you are a neuro-nerd like me, this book will keep the pages turning easily. Grisel does an outstanding job of keeping the science readable and digestible even if science and the brain are not your thing. The most appealing aspects of the book are how she artfully weaves her own personal experiences with addiction and recovery into the neuroscience. Her passion for this work is tangible throughout and is what gives it depth.

Grisel starts with her own story of addiction and how she drifted into it through her personal bottom and treatment for addiction. all the way to her personal bottom. Each subsequent chapter is laid out by chemical of abuse and how they effect or act on our neurobiology. She begins with THC (her first love), followed by opiates, alcohol, tranquilizers, stimulants, psychedelics, and other drugs of abuse. Each chapter is informative and perceptive.

Grisel adds a tremendous amount of science to explain addiction. I was pleased to see that her view on the genetic predisposition to addiction and mental health was cautious. She wades into the emerging field of epigenetics that will hopefully give us more insight into addiction than the purely genetic argument ever has. She states,
“Scant few genes have been reliably associated with addiction liability…We have found no snippets of DNA that have a major impact on addiction…(typically less than 1 percent) of the carriers inherent liability. There is no smoking gun.”

Where I really break with her narrative is in her portion of the book that discusses Native American/First Nations people’s propensity for addiction. I found it shallow and missing a deeper dive into causality. She even poses the question to herself;
“…if not biology, what could be the source of all the car accidents, cirrhosis, damaged children and families in Native American communities?”

Her over simplistic answer?

“The plain answer is lots of drinking.”

This is an almost inexcusable answer from a neuroscientist studying addiction but speaks volumes on how far we have to go in this field. The real answer is Trauma, which has a stronger correlation to addiction than genetics ever will. I think she missed an opportunity to explore transgenerational trauma here. Again, I agree with more in this book than I disagree with, but the omission of trauma throughout the book is glaring. As Grisel states, and I also suffer;
“I am not proud of my oppositional bias, but it seems to be a core part of my nature…”

She and I come back to the same path in her closing chapter on Solving Addiction. Here she leans back into the truth of her own recovery and research and melds them poignantly,
“I wonder of my path might have unfolded differently had I had the chance to face existential questions with the support of wise and empathetic models.”

She may understand the solution as a compassionate rather than punitive response to addiction as a by-product of her own recovery or by her decades of research, possibly a combination of both. Either way her final suggestion of reaching our hands out to a suffering addict instead of wringing our hands of them is a view that should be embraced by everyone from policy makers to emergence room workers.

Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power

For those of us who have struggled with a concept of a higher power in the 12-step programs, this book is a must read. Marya Hornbacher offers a way out of the struggle. Whether you are agnostic or atheist she offers an easily digestible way to navigate the spiritual. Even if “spiritual” is too heavy, this book may offer you inroads toward a more attuned path toward self-discovery.

Hornbacher weaves stories of her own experiences throughout the book, which makes her writing tangible and real. She is a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism and has struggled to overcome other mental wellness issues.

I enjoyed this book not only for the honest writing, and a fresh slant on the spiritual, but the ability of the writer to stimulate my mind. She asks provocative and difficult questions while laying down ideas for a deep and meaningful recovery.

The introduction sets the tone for what will come. She critiques the “We Agnostics” chapter of the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous and expresses her frustration in the myopic view of spirituality that the “Big Book” portends. However, she does exalt the steps as a “source of spirituality” and warns us that, “This book will ask more questions than it answers.” She keeps her promise, but these questions serve to deepen our own recovery as she discusses her own journey through the steps and spirituality.

This book is not necessarily meant to be read from start to finish, if you are a 12-step veteran, as each chapter is devoted to a step per month. It will also be beneficial to the newcomer who is not God-conscious or wrestling with “God as we understood him.” Hornbacher’s exploration and dissection of the steps is truly unparalleled. And, for those who are struggling with the steps or with God, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a must read. If you chair a 12-step meeting and are not bound in your meeting to A.A. approved literature, there is well over a years’ worth of meeting topics and questions for discussion to be had. Hornbacher is a sage of the most mystical variety!

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