Judith Grisel first got drunk at age 13. From then until her early twenties, she was always seeking oblivion via one drug or another. There came a point when she was homeless and, whilst they were bingeing in a South Florida hotel room, her drug buddy remarked to her that there would never be enough cocaine for them. This served as a turning point: Grisel got clean, embarked on a PhD programme in behavioural neuroscience, and for the past 20 years has been investigating the biological basis of addiction and the gender differences involved.

Her book raises questions of nature, nurture and culture. Drugs function, Grisel explains, by altering our baseline. Drugs change the rates of biological functions and have inevitable side effects. Over time, the nervous system adapts to counteract these effects and return to homeostasis. Drug use is only initially, and briefly, about seeking a high; from fairly early on, it instead becomes a matter of needing to take that drug to simply feel normal. Addiction is a mental illness, the author stresses, and substance abuse disorder affects 16% of the U.S. population, with a whopping 25% of deaths attributable to drug abuse.

Grisel proceeds class by class through the various types of drugs, including alcohol, to explore how they affect the body. It’s difficult to decide who would be an ideal audience for her book. There is too much detail on biology and chemistry (including graphs and diagrams) for it to be suited to the average lay reader. And though I found Grisel’s experiences interesting, much of the general information about addiction was familiar to me from other books, such as The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing, and Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing, as well as memoirs by former addicts. Perhaps if you haven’t read much about addiction, though, this will prove to be a valuable introduction.

Rebecca Foster 3*

Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith Grisel
Scribe UK 9781912854578 pbk Aug 2019