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Rethinking Addiction w/ Maia Szalavitz

My guest (S2 E3), Maia Szalavitz, is a rock star in the world of harm reduction. Her 2014 TIME article, "Cheap Crack Pipes, Free Heroin and Free Booze: The Evidence for Helping Addicts," is a perfect example of the sort of radical thinking we will need to end the war on drugs and the overdose crisis caused by it (81,000 deaths between 06/2019 - 06/2020).

The stigma surrounding addiction is often based on outright lies, like the myth of "Crack Babies," (babies born to mothers who have recently used cocaine). The idea that these children were born addicted and permanently disabled has been debunked repeatedly, but it persists because it works to shape our ideals of addiction and drug use: because it allows us to keep shaming and blaming users. These stock characters reminds us, wrongly, that addicted people are immoral and untrustworthy, dangers to the social order. This attitude sustains the prison-industrial complex.

The idea of keeping drug users alive and minimizing harm done to both them and society isn't a new one. From Sigmund Freud's book, Civilization and its Discontents, published in 1930: “life as we find it is too hard for us. It entails too much pain, too many disappointments, impossible tasks. We cannot do without palliative remedies: powerful diversions of interest, substitutive gratifications, and intoxicating substances…all pain is but sensation; it only exists in so far as we feel it…The crudest of these methods of influencing the body, but also the most effective, is the chemical one: that of intoxication” (14-17).

Maia's book, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, is a must-read:


“Love is real when it expands and enhances your life—and troubling and problematic when it contracts or impairs it. Whether you love a person, a drug, or an intellectual interest, if it is spurring creativity, connection and kindness, it’s not an addiction—but if it’s making you isolated, dull and mean, it is" (152).


Check out S2 E3, "Rethinking Addiction," for my conversation with Maia Szalavitz. We discuss tolerance, sensitization, evolutionary theory, the learning disorder model of addiction, recovery, substitution therapy (methadone, etc.), and frameworks for understanding drugs.

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