The Urge: our history of addiction - The Addicted Brain (Paperback)
  • The Urge: our history of addiction - The Addicted Brain (Paperback)

The Urge: our history of addiction - The Addicted Brain (Paperback)

Paperback 400 Pages
Published: 10/02/2022
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As a psychiatrist-in-training fresh from medical school, Carl Erik Fisher came face to face with his own addiction crisis, one that nearly cost him everything. Here, he investigates the history of this age-old condition.

Humans have struggled to define, treat, and control addictive behaviour for most of recorded history, including well before the advent of modern science and medicine. The Urge is a rich, sweeping history that probes not only medicine and science but also literature, religion, philosophy, and sociology, illuminating the extent to which the story of addiction has persistently reflected broader questions of what it means to be human and care for one another.

Fisher introduces us to the people who have endeavoured to address this complex condition through the ages: physicians and politicians, activists and artists, researchers and writers, and of course the legions of people who have struggled with their own addictions. He also examines the treatments and strategies that have produced hope and relief.

The Urge is at once an eye-opening history of ideas, a riveting personal story of addiction and recovery, and a clinician's urgent call for a more expansive, nuanced, and compassionate view of one of society's most intractable challenges.

Publisher: Scribe Publications
ISBN: 9781912854059
Number of pages: 400
Dimensions: 234 x 153 x 28 mm


'The Urge is an absolutely brilliant exploration of humanity's ever-present struggle with addiction, or what psychiatrist Carl Erik Fisher calls "the terrifying breakdown of reason." Dr Fisher's firsthand experience, as both a doctor and a patient, gives The Urge a layer of insight that deepens its historical focus. Readers will walk away with a nuanced grasp of the high stakes of our broken medical system and the bias baked into our understanding of addiction and mental illness in general. This book is special - as edifying as it is electrifying, as meaningful as it is humane.'

-- Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire

'Carl Erik Fisher expertly weaves his own story of addiction into a comprehensive and fascinating narrative. The Urge is an engaging read that also helps us gain a fuller picture of our own nature and how society has capitalised on it to drive addiction. Even as an addiction psychiatrist and researcher, I learned a great deal from this book.'

-- Dr Judson Brewer, PhD, author of Unwinding Anxiety

'Thoughtful, moving, and wonderfully informative, Carl Erik Fisher's The Urge arrives just in time to help us, as a nation, rethink our failed war on drugs. In telling his own story, that of a young physician wrestling with both alcohol and rehab, Dr. Fisher humanises the struggles that ensnare so many of us. Addiction, this marvellous book makes clear, is confounding, seductive, and elusive. In facing it without prejudice, we can learn a lot about ourselves.'

-- Dr Mark Epstein, author of The Trauma of Everyday Life and Advice Not Given

'This thoughtful, wise, and thoroughly researched book is sure to be a crucial contribution to our understanding of addiction - a crisis that demands a deeper, more truthful conversation.'

-- Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream

'Carl Erik Fisher's The Urge is the best-written and most incisive book I've read on the history of addiction. In the midst of an overdose crisis that grows worse by the hour and has vexed America for centuries, Fisher has given us the best prescription of all: understanding. He seamlessly blends a gripping historical narrative with memoir that doesn't self-aggrandise; the result is a full-throated argument against blaming people with substance use disorder. The Urge is a propulsive tour de force that is as healing as it is enjoyable to read.'

-- Beth Macy, author of Dopesick

'The Urge is an insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully written book that stands to revolutionise our understanding of one of medicine's - and society's - most challenging problems. Carl Erik Fisher is a masterful physician-writer who is equally attentive to the grand sweep of history and the subtleties of each individual's experience of addiction. A remarkable achievement.'

-- Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

'This courageous, urgent book tells the story of addiction, narrating its history, the author's own melees with alcohol and stimulants, and the narrative of other people's struggles, which he has grappled with as a clinician. In poignant, episodic accounts, he describes historical conflicts that remain alive today, when we view addiction sometimes as a social circumstance, sometimes as a biological disease, and sometimes as a personal failure. Fisher has undertaken the difficult but necessary job of reconciling these multiple points of view.'

-- Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon

'This is a brilliant, fascinating, important book. Combining riveting cultural history and cutting-edge neuroscience with his own searing experiences with (and recovery from) substance abuse, Carl Erik Fisher has produced a work that deserves a place alongside volumes by fellow physician-writers Oliver Sacks, Kay Redfield Jamison, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Abraham Verghese. Full of insight and wisdom, this is a profound meditation on the nature of addiction and what it means to be human.'

-- Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety

'Fisher ... makes a striking debut by skillfully combining a cultural history of addiction with his own story of recovery. He first looks to ancient philosophers and thinkers ... Along the way, he shares plenty of moving stories of the scientists, preachers, and patients on the front lines of addiction and movingly recounts his own struggle with alcohol and Adderall addiction while he was a physician in Columbia's psychiatry residency program ... There's as much history here as there is heart.'

* Publishers Weekly, starred review *

'Fisher, a psychiatrist and a patient recovering from addiction, wonders, "Is everyone somewhere on the addiction spectrum?" What factors - biological, psychological, social, cultural - play a role? A unique perspective on a frustrating, often devastating problem.'

* Booklist *

'A compelling history ... Fisher, an addiction physician and a recovering addict, illustrates the 'terrifying breakdown of reason' that accompanies the condition by drawing on patients' anecdotes and on his own experience.'

* The New Yorker *

'Doggedly researched, layered with empathy, The Urge pulls back multiple curtains at once in examining an ailment that will likely never go away ... The Urge contains a wealth of such research and insight, rendered with a gimlet eye and a physician's care. Addicts who make it to the other side often feel they have survived to fulfill a higher purpose. The Urge qualifies as just such an accomplishment, an inspired dive into a condition that, in one way or another, touches us all.'

* The Boston Globe *

'Eye-opening, humane, and meticulously researched.'

-- Caitlin Allen * Reaction *

'Carl Erik Fisher takes the reader on a vivid tour over several thousand years of multiple cycles of science, medicine and literature, woven together by the thread of the author's own alcohol and amphetamine addiction and treatment. It is made even more emphatic and moving because he is also a psychiatrist who treats such patients ... [The Urge] is thorough and revealing ... [and is] a mature view of the topic from someone with immense experience of it.'

-- David Nutt * The Guardian *

'This compassionate history urges us to leave behind moral panic and the temptation to stigmatise drug victims, and find more than one solution to a very human problem.'

-- Robyn Douglass * SA Weekend *


-- John Meagher * Irish Independent *

'I devoured [The Urge] ... Drawing on his experience with addiction, as well as his training in medicine and bioethics, Fisher has produced a meticulous history of addictions - exploring why, across time and place, we pursue our compulsions and obsessions unto grave consequences.'

-- Zachary Siegel * The Baffler *

'[A] marvellous gift of hope ... Fisher's work is a challenge and an invitation to discard narrow conceptions, abandon punitive strategies, and "free ourselves to look instead at the full variety of interventions available to help." ... We are fortunate that his book is here, now, within reach of policymakers, prosecutors, family members, people who are suffering from addiction, and those in recovery.'

* American Scholar *

'Fisher's writing glows with compassion ... The Urge is an ambitious book.'

-- Catherine DeMayo * The South Sydney Herald *

'Addiction is variously described as a brain disease, a personal demon, and an epidemic. This compelling history holds that it is simply "part of humanity." Fisher, an addiction physician and a recovering addict, illustrates the "terrifying breakdown of reason" that accompanies the condition by drawing on patients' anecdotes and on his own experience. He also highlights the ways in which stigmas - such as the "firewater" myth, which held that Native Americans were uniquely vulnerable to alcohol addiction - have provided "ideological cover" for policing certain groups.'

* The New Yorker *

'Dr Carl Erik Fisher's impressive debut tackles the cultural history of addiction, offering a nuanced, personal perspective on a health crisis that remains stigmatised and misunderstood ... The Urge is several excellent books in one: a complete and sweeping history of addiction, a compassionate doctor's approach to treating people with addictions, and a blistering critique of outdated, draconian government policies around drug use and addiction.'

-- BookPage, starred review

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