Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 out of 5 ⭐️‘s

This is a review of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction by Judith Grisel. Addiction impacts all of us, if you are reading this then chances are that throughout your life you have encountered the disease in some way or another—perhaps some of you more up close and personal than others, but nevertheless— it does not discriminate— it’s rampant, it permeates our society, our culture, our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. I had a particular interest in this book as I know all too well the effects of addiction. I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly in the winter of 2017, and after much digging into his life (and his past), I attribute his death to a life long battle with addiction—an addiction that evolved and progressed through several stages until finally taking his life far too soon. Having read countless books on the topic and being left with so many unanswered questions— I went into this book hopeful that Grisel might bring forth a fresh perspective on the experience of addiction, and that she might have the propensity to educate addicts and their families. I’ll say this, after completing the final chapter I felt so overcome with gratitude towards her for having written this book that I wrote her an email, thanking her— making it clear what a profound impact it has had on my life.

What is it about?

Grisel is a former addict, and not just any addict— she was a full fledged, dumpster diving, homeless kind of addict. She is quite candid in the retelling of events regarding her experience with addiction. Based on her history, and the situations she endured, and seeing as how most of the addicts from her past have since died— Grisel is lucky to be alive. As shocking as her experience is she only uses it to provide context for why her passions came about. After becoming clean and sober Grisel became obsessed with finding out why she became an addict in the first place. She was having difficulty coming up with a reason for why her life had taken her down such a dire path. Grisel became determined– she got her Ph.D. and become a behavioral neuroscientist, dedicating her life’s work to studying addiction. The book is a compilation of her research, her findings, her synopsis regarding the research of other scientists— she identifies the science behind substance abuse, and breaks down the layered process with specific regard to adaption, triggers, genetic predisposition, and relapse. Grisel explains which treatment courses are best suited for each addiction (according to substance), she explains why they work, and why other methods fail.

“In the beginning of a love affair, the pattern of the brain activity recorded by an fMRI is virtually indistinguishable from that showing the effects of cocaine.”

The Good

This book is packed dense with information. Grisel does not sugar coat anything, she gets right into the research, the facts, and explains what all of it means. I like the tone of her writing style—she is honest and vulnerable in the retelling of her life experiences, and instead of dwelling on the darkness of her past she transitions into recounting her journey as a scientist. It is evident from the book that she has fully submerged herself (for decades) in the study of addiction— and that her voice is one of authority. Without spoiling anything from the book I think I can safely identify what I enjoyed most—first, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about beta endorphins—something completely new to me, apparently they are “feel good” endorphins that provide a “sense of well-being by soothing stress and facilitating social affiliation” and, there is research out there that has tied individuals who are more at risk of using alcohol to a commonality— many also have a significant deficit in beta endorphins, and even more interesting, alcohol is able “to remedy this natural deficit.” And, even more interesting yet, that these beta endorphins come in the most part from our parents. I found that to be fascinating! Also, I loved learning about the natural opioids and anti-opiates that are produced in our bodies, and how the brain is ever evolving, adapting and attempting to reach a state of homeostasis, so it is always one step ahead of any substance that is put into it. If a substance that gives an opiate affect is put into the body, the brain immediately secretes an anti-opiate to counteract it, therefore reducing the effect of the opiate, and with each exposure the brain adapts to the existence of the opiate, requiring more opiate each time, until a “high” or reaction isn’t achievable regardless of the amount used. She even goes on to explain that the brain is even able to predict and expect that the opiate will be introduced into the body, based on a thought or habit (or some other trigger), and therefore pre-secretes an anti-opiate even before the substance has entered the body. Ultimately this leaves the addict to feel as though they are in a game of catch up, never able to achieve the intended goal. This is just a small puzzle piece in her overall theory— that for addicts, any substance is truly never enough.

“…the brain is so well organized to counteract perturbations that it uses its exceptional learning skills to anticipate disruptions, rather than wait for the changes themselves, and begins to dampen drug effects before the drug has even been delivered.”

The Bad

I had to dig deep in order to come up with anything critical about this book! What I came up with is— it does cover tedious information about a lot of different substances, so if you’re specifically interested in learning more about just one or two substances in particular then you might find yourself skimming certain areas of the book. Ultimately, it’s all relative, and it ties itself together in the end so it really does make sense to take the time and read all of it.

My Takeaway

I underlined paragraphs on nearly every page throughout this book and took twenty-four pages of notes. I will consider this a lifelong resource for information regarding all things addiction and treatment. If you have had any experience with addiction in your life or in the life of a family member than I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of this book. As I told Judith Grisel, I will cherish this information forever, and my only wish is that I would have had the opportunity to share it with my dad so that maybe he could have had the chance to better understand why he was the way he was.

“Though the appeal is understandable— something like sleeping through a child’s birth— as someone who has tried it both ways. I’m a fan of showing up. True, at times life can be awful, disappointing, terrifying, or mind-numbingly tedious. But just the same, there is the frequent possibility of being overcome with joy, gratitude, or delight. In short, it is likely impossible to tamp down terror without also leveling pleasure. As Socrates noted, and many appreciate, sorrow and joy depend on each other: I prefer the roller coaster to the train.”



Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction is available through my Amazon affiliate link below: