Health Health Addiction

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United States
Meredith Operations Corporation
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10 Issues

in this issue

4 min
the agony of addiction

“I HAVE ABSOLUTELY no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge,” explained Edgar Allan Poe in an 1848 letter. “It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” A prescient thought, for the next year, Poe died at 40; he’d packed quite a bit into his brief stay—inventing detective fiction, pioneering the short story, and, of course, creating the macabre masterpieces for which he is so celebrated. Poe was also a notorious alcoholic; though, to a degree, that reputation may have been posthumously embellished. For instance, recent scholars dispute the long-held assumption…

15 min
the science of addiction

AFTER NORA VOLKOW, MD, underwent surgery a few years back, she required opioid medication to treat her pain. As the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—the federal agency that funds most of the world’s addiction research—she was curious about what it would be like. “It was extraordinary,” she says of the euphoria she felt. “But it freaked me out.” She adds, “I did need it, but the moment I left the hospital, I stopped.” Dr. Volkow says the high gave her some insight into what people who do become addicted may feel in terms of the attractiveness of the drug. However, her ability to quit also reflects the most common outcome. Because she has few risk factors—and many protective ones—she did not become one of the roughly 1 percent…

11 min
written in the genes?

FOR CENTURIES, the nature-versus-nurture debate cast a long shadow over the study of human behavior, including the phenomenon of addiction. Are addicted people the products of their biology, or are their compulsions shaped by their experiences and environment? Why do some people mess with highly addictive substances at all, while others avoid them entirely? Great minds were split over these questions. Today, the debate is largely settled—though there is no clear victor. Experts now recognize that every human being is the product of both DNA and environment, which interact in endlessly complex ways to produce any number of outcomes. But that’s not to say the ratio of genetics to environment is the same from person to person. Just as one person’s genetic risk for heart disease or diabetes differs from another’s,…

17 min
compulsion without the chemicals

IN THE EARLY 1980S, marriage and family therapist Chris Anderson took a break from his practice to try his hand at stock trading, joining a brokerage firm in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Within a couple of days, he doubled his money. Even though the sum was relatively small, he did the math and decided he liked what it told him. “I went from not really knowing what I was doing, to my mind filling with numbers so big that I couldn’t even count them,” he recalls. “I had been known as a tightwad in my family, ironically, but here I thought I’d discovered something amazing.” Hooked on the rush of getting rich quick, Anderson studied the markets, developed strategies, and began generating money for himself and his clients. Then he started…

6 min
attack of the phones

EVER SINCE the introduction of social media apps, people have slowly developed a deeper relationship with their cell phones. What used to be a device that only stored phone numbers and digital games like Snake can now hold gigabytes of information and connect us with billions of people across the world. According to a 2018 Deloitte study, the average person checks their cell phone 52 times a day and prefers to use their device to access social media. While one might view this as a negative thing, our phones can be vital tools for work and life as certain apps and platforms help us connect and share with other people and loved ones. But excessively checking social media has been proven to create anxiety, self-esteem issues, and stress. Thankfully, we’re realizing how…

5 min
hunger pains

WHEN LAY’S potato chips challenged Americans with its slogan “Betcha can’t eat just one” in the 1960s, the company was making a pretty safe bet. Potato chips, like pizza, ice cream, and fries, top the list of the most “addictive” foods. We know that certain features of these foods, like being high in sugar and low in fiber—the kinds of foods that are designed to burn fast and taste really good—trigger the brain’s pleasure center and make it difficult to stop eating. But when we say these foods are “addictive,” do we really mean it? Can you literally be addicted to food? It’s a controversial question among researchers. “Food addiction is not universally recognized by medical professionals, but there are individual practitioners who believe, based on their view of current research, that…