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Memoirs of an Addicted BrainReview - Memoirs of an Addicted Brain
A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs
by Marc Lewis
PublicAffairs, 2011
Review by Jakub Matyja
Feb 19th 2013 (Volume 17, Issue 8)

Marc Lewis's Memoirs of an addicted brain is an especially interesting book. Far from the tone of academic publications on the often mysterious workings of human brain, Lewis shares with us his personal experiences, while providing information on the neural basis of addiction. The latter includes the explanation of how different sorts of drugs interact with our bodies and brains, or how the brain changes its workings leading to addiction from drugs and alcohol. Written in a clear and engaging way, Memoirs of an addicted brain are worth recommending for both laymen and those professionally interested in the subject. In the preface of his book Lewis writes: "I follow the thread of adventures that began in a New England boarding school, when I was fifteen years old and despondent, a thousand kilometers from my home in Toronto. From there I moved to Berkeley, California, in the heyday of the drug movement, and upgraded my flirtations with cough medicine to an infatuation with LSD and then heroin. Interspersed with university life in Berkeley, I spend two years in Asia, where I jointed medics sniffing nitrous oxide in the Malay jungle, bough heroin direct from the factory in Laos, and became a regular in the opium dens of Calcutta. I moved back to Toronto, married a woman I couldn't talk to, began stealing drugs from the psychology lab, then from medical centers, got clean, got divorced, fell off the wagon again, and ended up working in a mental hospital where the howls of the crazy people drove me back to crime..." [p. 2].

And indeed the further he goes with describing his life, the story seems to get more and more extraordinary (and at times, indeed, terrifying!). The first chapter of the book describes Author's involvement with alcohol, during his prep school. Apart from the common story of "getting drunk for a first time", Lewis nicely discusses the brain -- side of intoxication, in simple but illustrative language (that he uses throughout his memoirs), while referring to medical and chemical terminology. The second chapter, on the other hand, is about the science of "getting high" on cough medicine. From there, Lewis turns to getting intoxicated on cannabis in Chapter 3. On the slightly more positive note, in the following Chapter 4 (suggestively entitled "Dopamine and desire: A romantic interlude"), Lewis describes his "teenager in love" episode, and the workings of the brain in the times of (sexual) desire. Then, after being dumped by his girlfriend, depressed author turned to LSD, and led the life of the member of Hippies commune described in Chapter 5 and 6. In Chapter 7, Lewis describes his experiences and the workings of other psychedelic drug - including Phencyclidine. On the even more disturbing note, in the following Chapters 8 and 9, Lewis describes his "trip" with heroin. The latter chapter, provides and interesting account on how the brain changes with addiction. In the tenth chapter, he describes his attempt to return to normal life. Yet, unsurprisingly, in Chapter 11 Lewis describes how he turned into abusing nitrous oxide, being the simplest form of general anesthetic. Interestingly, he also accounts here on William James, his works on the nature of consciousness and his use of this drug. Chapter 12 changes the location of his story from USA to Laos, where Lewis struggled with opiates. In Chapter 13, Lewis describes his struggle with morphine and remained stealing drugs from the laboratory in which he was working in. Unsurprisingly, this scenario finally led Lewis to arrest (more on that in Chapter 14), and a long road of trying to get back to normal life again, this time by starting a window-washing business and returning to academia.

To conclude, the fascinating thing about this book is the fact, that along the description of addiction and its neurological basis, the author describes his emotional life, what makes his story simultaneously engaging and disturbing. This book is highly interesting and recommended.

 

© 2013 Jakub Matyja

 

Jakub Matyja, currently a PhD student in Philosophy at Polish Academy of Sciences, works in embodied, enactive and extended music cognition. His research is financed by the resources of the National Science Centre (NCN), granted under decision number DEC-2011/03/N/HS1/01703.


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