The book is an argument against the notion that addiction should be classified under the same category as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and dementia. If you consider the history of how and why addiction became a disease as opposed to being classified as anything else, combined with the neuroscience of how addiction impacts the brain vs. how something like dementia does, you’ll realize the power of this argument, especially considering the fact that while someone with dementia can’t decide to stop having dementia, a person with an addiction needs to first decide they no longer want to continue with their addiction before they seek the right therapy and support. Disease requires a combination of drug treatment and possibly immune system actions, whereas addiction requires personal will and therapy.
What I really liked about this book is how Lewis intertwined narratives of five former addicts (heroin, alcohol, crystal meth, eating disorder, prescription medication) with how their addiction habits were affecting their brains’ structure and function (Lewis happens to also have been an addict and wrote about this in a previous work titled Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs). Lewis is almost poetic in how he narrates the stories of real life people who battled with addiction, which he also does with such authenticity given that he himself was a former addict and can relate to these stories at a personal level. The book also does a very nice and smooth job layering on top of these narratives how the brain responds to changing habits, and how addiction is really the brain doing what it’s meant to do but taken to an extreme end. It was quite an enjoyable and enlightening read.