How withdrawal distress and cravings can haunt current and former addicts, and what they can teach us about addiction and its treatments.
“The dead drug leaves a ghost behind. At certain hours it haunts the house,” Jean Cocteau once wrote. In The Ghost in the Addict, Shepard Siegel offers a Pavlovian analysis of drug use. Chronic drug use, he explains, conditions users to have an anticipatory homeostatic correction, which protects the addict from overdose. This drug-preparatory response, elicited by drug-paired cues, is often mislabeled a “withdrawal response.” The withdrawal response, however, is not due to the baneful effects of previous drug administrations; rather, it is due to the body's preparation for the next drug administration—a preparatory response that can haunt addicts like a ghost long after they have conquered their usage.
Examining the failure of legislation, the circumstances of overdose, and the cues that promote drug use, Siegel seeks to counter the widespread belief that addiction is evidence of a pathology. Instead, he proposes that the addict has an adaptive, learned response to the physiological changes wrought by drug use. It is only through understanding so-called withdrawal symptoms as a Pavlovian response, he explains, that we can begin to understand why addicts experience cravings long after their last drug use.
Shepard Siegel is Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at McMaster University. He has been a Fellow in the American Psychological Association, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and the Royal Society of Canada. From 2003 to 2008 he was Editor of Learning & Behavior.
“Nobody knows more about what really happens in addiction than Shepard Siegel.”
Angela Duckworth, cofounder of Character Lab, author of Grit, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania
“Logical and convincing, The Ghost in the Addict is a major contribution to the study of addiction, and written clearly enough that anyone who wants to will understand and be influenced by it. Siegel's ideas and experiments are a key watershed for addiction theory and research.”
Barry Dworkin, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience, Pennsylvania State University, College of Medicine
“The blend of history, culture, and law, along with Shepard Siegel's insights about the more technical aspects of his research, make The Ghost in the Addict an informative and compelling read for the nonspecialist.”
Patricia Erickson, Scientist Emerita at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, and retired Professor of Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto
“The Ghost in the Addict is a delightfully insightful account of the importance of learned anticipatory responses in drug addiction, by one of the greatest minds in psychology and addiction science, Shepard Siegel. It is a must-read for anyone involved in treatment or who has been touched by addiction.”
Linda A. Parker, University Professor Emerita, former Canada Research Chair in Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Guelph; author of Cannabinoids and the Brain and CBD