We have typically defined addiction as needing a substance to function normally, but this ignores crucial psychological qualities of addiction. A new and better definition has arrived, says Maia Szalavitz.
The biological definition of addiction that has informed lawmakers and the general public about drug use — defined as the necessity of a substance to function normally — is vastly inadequate to diagnose and treat drug addiction. Journalist and drug addiction researcher Maia Szalavitz proposes a new definition of addiction which gets to the core psychological causes: addiction is compulsive behavior despite negative consequences.
American anti-drug laws are inspired by colonialism and racism, not science. They are at odds with our current understanding of addiction and ignore the economic blight of this second gilded age.
American anti-drug laws need serious reevaluation, both because of how they came to be and because of how they affect drug users. Perhaps there is no better authority on the issue than Maia Szalavitz, a journalist fluent in the most recent neuroscientific research and herself a former drug addict. Understanding scientific research as she does, Szalavitz says American drug laws have little to do with science and everything to do with prevailing social attitudes, which have been at times colonialist and, more recently, institutionally racist.
Maia Szalavitz is widely viewed as one of the premier American journalists covering addiction and drugs. A neuroscience writer for TIME.com and a former cocaine and heroin addict, she understands the science and its personal dimensions in a way that few others can. She is co-author of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential—and Endangered and The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, both with Dr. Bruce D. Perry. Her 2006 book, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids is the first book-length exposé of the "tough love" business that dominates addiction treatment. She writes for a variety of publications including TIME.com, the New York Times, New York Magazine, Pacific Standard, Scientific American, Nautilus, Matter, Elle, Psychology Today, VICE, and Marie Claire. Her newest book is Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.