Well it doesn’t seem like we can ever get through Lent without me reading an addiction memoir, but this one is definitely different, and I think it’s a good difference. Rather than just a person’s story of his journey through drug addiction and out into recovery — engrossing though those can be — this is a story by a neuroscientist who was a drug addict in his youth. Marc Lewis not only narrates the chilling and stupid things he did to his brain and body as a younger man; he analyzes, at each step (first drink; first joint; acid trip; near-death from heroin overdose; relapse…) what’s going on in the chemical-affected brain. Sometimes the neuroscience parts of the book went over my head, though he carefully couches everything in layman’s language and includes diagrams. But for what I was able to understand it was very interesting to see a brain’s-eye view, as it were, of how drug abuse and drug addiction impact the user.
There were a couple of gaps in this book that I wish Lewis had filled in. First of all, he didn’t touch on the question of who becomes an addict, and why. Of all the unhappy fifteen year olds like himself who get drunk and smoke weed, relatively few end up breaking into hospital labs (during their internships!) to steal drugs. I would have liked to know whether Lewis had any insight, from a neuroscience perspective, as to why he was one of those who did become an addict. Is addiction wired into people’s brains in any way we can understand? Also, I find that while he spends a lot of time talking about his drug use he skates over his recovery fairly quickly in the closing chapters. While this is a common failing of (some, not all) addiction memoirs, I was particularly disappointed here that we didn’t learn more about how the brain changes during recovery, and how those patterns that have become so well-worn (and well-documented) can be changed. The book is both interesting and informative, but there were definitely areas where I felt the author could have told us more — not about his own life, which he covers quite well, but about the brain.