Being an ex-drug-addict turned neuroscientist brings a unique insight into the physiological and phenomenological realities of addiction.
Excerpt: For 10 years I spun in and out of an addiction to opiates (and other drugs) that led to despair, crime, and the loss of everything I valued most—including my place in graduate school. After many failed attempts, I finally quit taking addictive drugs 30 years ago. I reentered grad school, got my PhD in developmental psychology, and became a professor at the University of Toronto, focusing on emotional and personality development. I studied these topics for 13 years, but I never quite understood my own personality development. I came to believe that my theories needed help from neuroscience, and that’s why I switched to research on the emotional brain—my focus for the past decade.
When I was in the throes of intense psychological addiction, my thoughts were continuously (and unpleasantly) drawn to drug imagery. It would be so great to have some now! How can I get some tonight?! But attraction to something you are just about to get feels marvelous. Dopamine-induced engagement turns into a headlong rush of triumph when the goal is finally accessible.
This perspective on the dual nature of attraction helps make sense of addiction. Unsated attraction can be a kind of torture, and addicts may seek drugs to put an end to that torture, more than for the modicum of pleasure drugs actually bestow.