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Breaking Addictions


This reading guide explores the topic of addiction, broadly understood. Intended for adult readers from a wide range of backgrounds, it gathers resources which are useful to explore addiction from different perspectives: an academic interest, an individual looking to break their own addictions, or someone looking to understand the addictive behaviour of someone else. Depending on one’s own addiction and cultural background not all resources will be appropriate or relevant. For example, books structured around a twelve-step approach many not be relevant for someone overcoming addictive patterns of thinking.

Reading Guide

An excellent place to enter this topic is Gabor Maté’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (Vintage Canada, 2009, p. 480), which interprets addiction in a broader context. Not only is this an intensely Canadian resource, based on Dr. Maté’s experiences running a safe injection clinic in Vancouver, it also tackles popular understandings of addiction and includes insights that will encourage the reader to learn more about the topic. For example, Maté explodes the commonly held notion that substances are inherently addictive. They are not. The insights shared in this book have implications beyond the personal; one can see how public policies could (or should) be changed to better address addictions at a social level.

Moving from a survey of many encounters with addiction to several personal ones, the reader may consider the intimate, autobiographic journey through addiction found in the works of David Sheff (Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, Houghton Mifflin, 2008, p. 326) and his son Nic’s sequel to that book We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012, p. 384). For those wishing to read about a woman’s journey through addiction, Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel’s memoir Prozac Nation (Riverhead Books, 1995, p. 384) and subsequent books may offer a valuable avenue. Prozac Nation was also adapted into a 2001 film of the same title starring Christina Ricci (Miramax, Erik Skjoldbjærg director).

Readers wishing to view encouraging films featuring characters who struggle with addictions may wish to borrow 28 Days starring Sandra Bullock (Tall Trees Productions, 2000, director Betty Thomas) or Everything Must Go starring Will Farrell (Temple Hill Entertainment, 2010, director Dan Rush). Both films come highly recommended by American writer and film critic Elysia Valdivia who herself once struggled with addiction to alcohol.

Originally published in 1992 and republished in 2014, The Recovery Book by Al J. Mooney et al (Workman Publishing Company, 2014, p. 624) is a title more specifically suited to a recovering substance addict. It is a comprehensive resource meant to be consulted again and again over the course of one’s recovery from addiction, addressing everything from physical challenges to the brain’s neuroplasticity and how to take advantage of this reality to overcome addiction. The Recovery Book is broken into twenty six chapters under three distinct stages of recovery (Red Zone, Yellow Zone, Green Zone).

Offering an alternative to the traditional twelve-step approach promoted by Mooney’s work is Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering From Addiction by Noah Levine (HarperOne, 2014, p. 288). For those who find the religious tenants of traditional twelve-step support groups uncomfortable, Refuge Recovery provides a non-theistic, scientific, and psychological path illuminated by the four noble truths and eight-fold path of Buddhist teachings.

Returning to a more secular path, while maintaining a practical approach to personal recovery, Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by Candice B. Pert (Scribner, 1999, p. 368) introduces the reader to the role of neuroreceptors in generating emotional states. Written in non-academic, everyday language by the scientist credited with discovering the opiate receptor, Molecules of Emotion is an excellent entrance to the science of addiction. Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life by John Arden (Wiley, 2010, p. 256) reconceptualizes and expands on Pert’s work through the lens of neuroplasticity –the idea that our brain is not hardwired at birth but “soft wired” by experience. For readers recovering from addiction, these two resources will provide the encouragement that comes with getting science on one’s side. A book along the same secular/scientific theme is Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One by Joe Dispenza (Hay House, 2013, p. 329). This book also has a separate audio component which some readers may find helpful: Meditations for Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (Hay House, 2015, 2 discs). For those interested in meditations with a specifically scientific intent based on brain science, this resource may prove invaluable.

Finally, for those seeking an enjoyable, creative, hands-on supplement to themes of addiction and recovery, a resource worth considering for purchase is Rewired Adult Coloring Book: An Adult Coloring Book for Emotional Awareness, Healthy Living & Recovery (Hatherleigh Press, 2017, p. 96) by Erica Spiegelman (Author) and Leighanna Hoyle (Illustrator). The colouring book is based on Speigelman’s 2015 book Rewired: A Bold New Approach To Addiction and Recovery (Hatherleigh Press, p. 144) published two years earlier. The colouring book may provide valuable visual therapy and support, especially for those with an artistic side, however Spiegelman’s credentials as a scientist and therapist are questionable; other texts in this guide are more reliable.

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