THE SCIENCE OF ADDICTION
by Carlton Erickson
Published by WW Norton at £19.95. 292 pages.
I MUST CONFESS TO KNOWING Professor Carlton Erickson: I first heard him speak in the US and was so impressed that I invited him to be a key presenter at the inaugural UK/European Symposium on Addictive Disorders in 2004 – due to demand, he returned in 2006.
Even personalities who had worked in this field for decades told me afterwards that his lecture was the first time they could understand the difference between addiction/ dependency and abuse/misuse. So I was looking forward to receiving this book, and was not disappointed. I can unreservedly recommend this book to anyone, professional or general public, who has any interest in addiction.
Scientists tend to blame treatment professionals for not taking time to read the latest scientific literature or to attend educational science lectures. Treatment professionals tell the scientists that they are boring and use confusing jargon. Government sometimes tries to get the two sides together. Erickson is one of the few people in this world who not only has the ability but also the interest and love to be a scientific spokesperson who feels comfortable helping counsellors, treatment and other health professionals as well as lawyers and administrators to become excited about addiction science.
“Given the likelihood that there will never be enough studies in addiction science to be totally convincing, the science that best matches the ‘voices of the afflicted’ is most useful,” he writes. “Listening to people who live the problem is a great way to come up with hypotheses to test.” He can be confident only when evidence-based and practice-based findings consolidate each other.
10 chapters cover terminology and characterisation of “addiction”, the basics of brain science, anatomy and neurobiology of chemical dependence, genetics, stimulants and depressants, alcohol, other drugs, treatment, the power and limitations of addiction research, and evidence-based research for the future. There are appendices, references and a glossary.
The subject matter demands concentration from readers, but the information is written in an easy-to-read style. The thoroughness with which Erickson covers his topics can be illustrated in, for example, the chapter on treatment.
This covers the philosophy of “dependence disease treatment”, placebo (expectancy) effects,
12-step programmes, interactional and behaviour-therapy, methadone, buprenorphine, harm reduction, moderation management, faith-based treatment, vouchers, detoxification, anti-craving drugs, anti-smoking therapies and drugs, new developments such as vaccines, the need for painkillers, comorbid mental disorders and “chronic care”.
Deirdre Boyd is editor of Addiction Today