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Unbroken Brain

A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction

Maia Szalavitz


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ISBN10: 1250116449
ISBN13: 9781250116444

Trade Paperback

352 Pages



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More people than ever before see themselves as addicted or recovering from addiction, whether it be to alcohol or drugs, prescription meds, sex, gambling, porn, or the internet. But despite this unprecedented attention, our understanding of addiction is trapped in unfounded 20th century ideas of addiction as a crime or brain disease, and in equally outdated treatment.

Challenging both the idea of the addict's "broken brain" and the notion of a simple "addictive personality," Unbroken Brain offers a radical and groundbreaking new perspective, arguing that addictions are learning disorders and shows how seeing the condition this way can untangle our current debates over treatment, prevention, and policy. Like autistic traits, addictive behaviors fall on a spectrum—and they can be a normal response to an extreme situation. By illustrating what addiction is and is not, the book illustrates how timing, history, family, peers, culture, and chemicals come together to create both illness and recovery—and why there is no "addictive personality" or single treatment that works for all.

Combining Maia Szalavitz's personal story with a distillation of more than 25 years of science and research, Unbroken Brain provides a paradigm-shifting approach to thinking about addiction.


Praise for Unbroken Brain

"Ms. Szalavitz deftly threads her life story through the book to illustrate the dynamics that put people at risk of addiction."—The Wall Street Journal

"Anyone who has battled addiction or seen it harm a loved one will gain insights from Unbroken Brain, and if it influences policymakers, too, everyone will benefit."—Associated Press

“Maia Szalavitz is one of our most incisive thinkers about neuroscience in general and addiction in particular and her writing is astonishingly clear and compelling. In the timely, important, and insightful Unbroken Brain, Szalavitz seamlessly interweaves her moving personal story with her investigation into what addiction is (and isn’t) and how we can most effectively prevent and treat it.”—David Sheff, New York Times bestselling author of Clean and Beautiful Boy

"Through the lens of her own gripping story of addiction—supported with empirical evidence—Szalavitz persuasively shows that addiction is a disorder of learning, not one characterized by progressive brain dysfunction."—Carl Hart, Ph.D., author of the Pen/Faulkner award-winning High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society

“As more professionals realize that addiction isn't really a disease, our challenge is to determine exactly what it is. Szalavitz catalogs the latest scientific knowledge of the biological, environmental and social causes of addiction and explains precisely how they interact over development. The theory is articulate and tight, yet made accessible and compelling through the author's harrowing autobiography. Unbroken Brain provides the most comprehensive and readable explanation of addiction I've yet to see.”—Marc Lewis, author of The Biology of Desire

"A new way of looking at drug addiction that offers a fresh approach to managing it. [Salavitz] writes frankly about her background . . . In a heartfelt manner, she exposes her own fears and pain . . . A dense blending of self-exposure, surprising statistics, and solid science reporting that presents addiction as a misunderstood coping mechanism, a problem whose true nature is not yet recognized by policymakers or the public."—Kirkus Reviews

"Journalist Szalavitz offers a multifaceted, ground-up renovation of the concept of addiction—both its causes and its cures."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


There is often a struggle, and sometimes, even more interestingly, a collusion between the powers of pathology and creation.


I AM LYING ON MY BACK inside the thin metal tube of the...

About the author

Maia Szalavitz

New York Times bestselling author Maia Szalavitz is one of the premier American journalists covering addiction and drugs. She is co-author of Born for Love and The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, both with Dr. Bruce D. Perry. Her book, Help at Any Cost is the first book-length exposé of the "tough love" business that dominates addiction treatment. She writes for, the New York Times, New York Magazine, VICE, Scientific American, Elle, Psychology Today, and The Guardian among others.

Ash Fox

Maia Szalavitz

Official Links

Read Maia Szalavitz's column at The Fix