Craving: a Book Review

cravingI just read a great new book related to addiction.

“Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough” was written by Omar Manejwala, M.D., a friend of mine, a nationally renowned addiction psychiatrist, and an expert on compulsive behaviors of all kinds. This nonfiction book is, as the title suggests, all about the phenomenon of craving. It is published by Hazelden and will be released today. You can go to this link to buy the book:

Dr. Manejwala has been the medical director of Hazelden and other prestigious addiction treatment facilities, and has worked with all sorts of addicts including addicted healthcare professionals. He’s even appeared on television on show like 20/20.

This book is about more than just drug addiction; his information about craving pertains to any substance or activity. I love his definition of craving as a desire so strong that when unfulfilled “produces powerful physical and mental suffering.” (p2) His description of craving is eloquent and easily understood.

In this book Dr. Manejwala explains abstract ideas and concepts in plain language. I’ve heard him give lectures on addiction-related topics and I’ve always been impressed his skill of distilling the complicated into understandable bits. His writing also shows this gift. Though his book is easy to understand, it’s not dumbed down, as too many books on addition written for the public tend to be.

The first part of the book defines cravings and compares them to weaker wants and urges. He tells us why cravings matter: cravings lead all of us to indulge in behaviors that undermine success. In subsequent chapters, Dr Manejwala gives some simple information about brain anatomy and neurotransmitters, and shows how the brain’s structure and function affect our ability to make choices.

In a later chapter he shows how cravings can drive not only behavior, but also thought patterns, in some really interesting ways. When a person intends to act on a craving that is obviously destructive, all sorts of irrational and false beliefs can pop up, and seem to make perfect sense. These thought patterns keep the person stuck in destructive behaviors for long periods of time, leading to negative life consequences.

Another chapter shows how addictive behaviors tend to be related; that is, how a person with alcohol addiction is more likely to have or develop addictions to other drugs. That person is also more likely to develop a behavioral addiction like gambling, compulsive overeating, or compulsive shopping. This chapter explains why these behaviors can occur together.

My favorite chapter is about the brain’s plasticity. The term “plasticity,” when applied to the brain, means the brain is changeable. Our thoughts, actions, and experiences actually change the structure and functioning of the brain. This is important, because it means there are things we can do to change our cravings. Dr. Manejwala explains how thoughts, behavior, and even spirituality can free us from cravings. This fascinating chapter has some great references, too.

The next chapter tells more about how spirituality is important to recovery. The author explains why 12-step recovery and other spiritual approaches work to reduce cravings. He explains specifically how groups help reduce urges and improve behavior in ways that can’t be done by a lone individual.

Later chapters explain how insight into problem behavior is only a start in the direction of change, and how many people mistakenly think facts alone will reduce cravings. This chapter clarifies how apparently irrelevant decisions can actually be subconscious decisions to act on a craving. In this chapter, healthier substitute activities are suggested. The latter chapters have solid advice on where to go to find help with problem behaviors, and have specific tips to help with cravings for smoking, alcohol and other drugs, sugar, gambling, and internet addiction.

This gem of a book is relatively short, at 190 pages, and highly readable. I’m keeping it on my bookshelf for the references listed in the back.

This book will help addiction professionals be better able to explain cravings and addiction to patients. Anyone who has ever tried to squelch a craving – unsuccessfully – by willpower alone will be interested in this book.

Don’t miss this book if you’re interested in book about addiction and recovery.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joy Auren on April 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I’m due for a good read! Look forward to it.


  2. Posted by Benjamin Keith Phelps on May 1, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Sounds quite interesting… And while this wasn’t the main point of the article, I do want to say that it has always interested me, though, how some people seem to be LARGELY helped by groups (as far as controlling cravings & the likes), while others seem to find virtually nothing helpful about them. I have always tended to be in the latter of the 2. It’s NOT that I am saying groups are bad, or that I don’t need any help aside from my medicine… Not at all! I AM saying that I have always benefited from 1-on-1 counseling MUCH more than group, though. I always have much more success in working through something when I can focus on it with my individual counselor & get direct input, having no time limit due to others in the group needing to speak about other things, & not feeling like I have to hide anything (i.e.- my sexual orientation, which shouldn’t be an issue or anything I need to divulge at all, but when you’re discussing a problem at home in your relationship, trying to switch the pronouns is NOT something I’m willing or going to do! And even though I’m NEVER EVER ashamed of myself & who I am, I don’t always WANT to have to go into that in a group. And if I simply don’t worry about it while in a group & just say the correct pronouns in my speaking, I have had incidents of people making snide remarks on the side, which I WON’T tolerate well at all!) For these reasons & maybe 1 or 2 more, I MUCH prefer 1-on-1 counseling to group therapy, & I am quite sure I always will, for the times I need more than medicine now (I’ve been clean for many years now & feel that additional services aside from the medicine are not needed as a constant &/or mandated thing… Upon having a certain length of time clean, I believe that it should become voluntary to participate in additional counseling of either type [group or 1-on-1]).


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