Monday, 31 August 2015

Addiction and disease: how addicts can heal themselves

By Rameshi Punsara Pannila Arachchige

According to neuroscientist Mark Lewis addiction is not a brain disease despite the commonly held belief that it is. From the age of 15 until his recovery at age 30, Marc Lewis spent most of his waking life under the influence of every drug he could get his hands on. His extreme addiction cost him everything but his life.

Lewis starts the controversial Melbourne Writers session: ‘Learning Addiction’ by clearly defining one of the topics that what we had all come to hear him discuss: addiction, saying that it is a “strong desire [where] craving enters as the main villain.” The majority of the audience nodd in agreement.

Addiction to substances and behaviours is an enormous problem, that affects up to 40% of our population to some degree. It is a subject close to Lewis' heart as, in his 20s, he struggled with an addiction to opiates. This personal experience and its connection to his research made the session all the more impactful.

The one-hour session taught audience members that the 'disease model' of addiction is wrong and that this thinking is darkening the path to recovery for addicts. Lewis contends that the brain is designed to change – but when we have highly motivated learning occurring, say something that is repeated over and over, then the 'learning arch' rises extremely rapidly. What occurs then is a kind of exaggerated learning phenomenon, where the learning is deep and specialised. The brain shapes itself according to what it experiences.

Lewis elaborates on this in his new book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease. Inthis session and in his book he, controversially, likens addiction to romantic love in terms of the occurrence of an 'accelerated learning'. Much like the way Lewis has structured this session, the book mixes personal narratives of recovered addicts with scientific data.

The session concluded in an air of hopefulness; hopeful that addicts can heal themselves through self-directed and change of an individual's perspective and goals. 

 Edited by Emmyrose Hobbs


  1. Wow Interesting Review..well written!!

  2. Very nice review, well done.

  3. interesting, the topic itself caught my attention.


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