Mar 15

“Irresistible”: Adam Alter Says We’re Hooked On the Tech Stuff

The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history. Adam Alter, Irresistible

Although I usually save the book reviews for last, in this case I believe they can serve as apt descriptions of what psychology and marketing expert Adam Alter is trying to convey in Irresistible:The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (2017).

In reviewing Irresistible author Daniel H. Pink notes that Alter is focusing here on behavioral addiction, “a hidden danger in our lives.” Examples of tech-related addictions include “tracking social media ‘likes’ to counting our steps,” he reports. Alter concludes “our actions are being guided less by our own volition than by the architecture of the technologies we use.”

David Epstein: “In Irresistible, Adam Alter illuminates the surprising, fascinating, and frightening biological and psychological connections between a toddler hitting every button in an elevator, a surgical patient asking for painkillers, and the millions of people hooked on Facebook. No one who has ever seen an advertisement, checked their email on a smartphone, or used the Internet will come away quite the same.”

What are the actual numbers? According to Alter’s research, use of cellphones is up to three hours a day for many, video games can be weeks on end for some adolescent boys, and Snapchat users often open up their apps over 18 times a day.

Furthermore, “In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.”

And that’s not all. Regarding the general incidence of behavioral addictions? “A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smartphones.”

(Stats from the last three paragraphs are from Alter’s interview with Claudia Dreifus, New York Times).

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: “[Alter] also illustrates the stakes: that these technologies are preventing us from forming meaningful relationships, raising empathetic children, and separating work from sleep and play.”

An appropriate conclusion from another cultural authority, Malcolm Gladwell: “As if to prove his point, Adam Alter has written a truly addictive book about the rise of addiction. Irresistible is a fascinating and much needed exploration of one of the most troubling phenomena of modern times.”

How can these types of addiction be managed by overusers? Dreifus asked Alter to comment:

I’d suggest that they be more mindful about how they are allowing tech to invade their life. Next, they should cordon it off. I like the idea, for instance, of not answering email after six at night.

In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.

Dec 21

Addiction Recovery: Three Timely Books

Although substance abuse issues are always relevant, the holidays tend to bring out a heightened need for support and encouragement among those who are struggling. Following are three addiction recovery books to consider.

I. Stanton Peele and Ilse Thompson, Recover!: Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program (2014)

In Recover! Dr. Peele’s PERFECT Program takes you through the key concepts of mindfulness–that is, your ability to detach from your addictive experience and to see that it is not who you are–combined with the Buddhist idea of loving kindness, or self-acceptance…

What does PERFECT stand for? I couldn’t find the whole breakdown, but “P” is for  “Pause” (vs. powerlessness), “E” for “Embrace” (of self and others), “R” for “Rediscover.”

Peele notes (Reason) that he and Thompson believe “sobriety is best built on having a purpose in life. Recovery means that you embrace a life of engagement and meaning; that you overcome your addiction in the service of your values, plans, and life goals. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you never take a sip of alcohol or any consciousness-altering substance again, ever.”

In Peele and Thompson’s world, addiction is not a disease, and 12-step programs don’t necessarily help toward addiction recovery. From a Psychology Today post by Peele, “AA can provide good support for people, or it can undermine them. You’ll have to be the judge of that for yourself. But these steps don’t represent a Buddhist path. They are rather a Western religious tradition of guilt, self-blame, and shame that we feel is a prod to addiction, and not a remedy.”

On identity: “You are not your addiction; you are a valuable human being whose qualities endure and exceed your addiction…It’s impossible to expect a person to achieve wellness by focusing on his or her faults and mistakes. Perhaps this is why conventional recovery asserts that people must remain ‘in recovery’ forever and continue to identify themselves as addicts, no matter how long they are sober.”

II. Erica Spiegelman, Rewired: A Bold New Approach To Addiction and Recovery (2015)

As stated on therapist Spiegelman‘s website:

With this plan, you won’t need any special knowledge or time in therapy to complete the process. There is no discussion of willpower or ‘my way or the highway’ directives.

Centered around the concept of self-actualization, Rewired presents a simple and common-sense recovery plan that is designed, tailored, and fitted to the uniqueness of every individual, regardless of his or her beliefs, background, or specific addiction.

Spiegelman describes (MariaShriver.com) the addiction recovery process as “a whole-soul makeover” involving six “brain-training principles”: authenticity, honesty, time management, self-care, healthy relationships, and gratitude. Practicing these will lead to “your brain [beginning] to create healthy pathways.”

III. Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion To Recovery (2016)

Just what it says it is, this book presents quotes about addiction recovery from such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Patti Smith, Raymond Carver, Jack London, Anais Nin, Stephen King, and Walt Whitman. Sources include fiction, letters, diaries and journals, notebooks, speeches, Twitter, and more.

Co-author Steinberg himself has read the book “50 times,” he told Mark Konkol, DNAInfo.com. “I know I wrote it, but I find comfort in it all the time.”

Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews: “For Steinberg, crawling from the wreckage is personal. His recovery from alcoholism began over a decade ago. Such experience with and true knowledge of the lure of spirits lend depth to each chapter. Excuses, denials, relapses, and fear of an emotional and chemical dependency that can’t be overcome—these are classic patterns of addiction, just as seeking help and finding inner strength are patterns of recovery.”

“The advice,” states Nola, “is not sugar-coated—rehab is tough, and life after rehab can be tougher–but beyond the battle, promises the work, is a reclaimed world.”

Jul 15

“The Confirmation”: If You Liked “Nebraska”…

Writer/director Bob Nelson‘s comedy/drama The Confirmation, difficult to find in theaters this year but now on DVD, has been described as “understated” by critics. Its lead characters are Walt as an “alcoholic deadbeat dad” and his young son Anthony, who’s sweetly dad-adoring though worried about him.

According to various reviewers, if you’ve seen Nelson’s previous screenplay, Nebraska, you’ll recognize some similarity in style and theme.

Andy Webster, New York Times, briefly summarizes the plot of The Confirmation, which “is seemingly simple: A handyman, Walt (Clive Owen), whose drinking cost him his marriage, has a weekend with his 8-year-old son, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), while his ex (Maria Bello) is on a church-sponsored couples retreat with her new man (Matthew Modine).”

Walt’s gotten himself a needed job, but his tools have been stolen. Rex Reed, New York Observer, taking it from there:

For the next two days, he tries to find the thief, get his toolbox back, and stay sober long enough to be a real father to the boy who loves him unconditionally. The weekend turns into something of a nightmare as Dad, struggling to be responsible, and his son, trying to be helpful, embark on a series of adventures both dangerous and funny. Not to mention contrived.

Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com:

They encounter a collection of oddballs and, if looking at it from a moral perspective, sinners. There’s Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a reformed thief who ‘found Jesus’ but still beats his young son Allen (Spencer Drever). That lead brings the pair to a comic interlude involving Drake (Patton Oswalt), another thief, whose claim to know everyone in town becomes doubtful. The only, clearly decent man of the bunch is Walt’s long-time friend Otto (Robert Forster), who comes at a moment’s notice to help Anthony with his father and to explain the effects of alcohol withdrawal to the boy.

Tom Long, Detroit News: “The quest, of course, is a rich bonding experience for father and son. Anthony sees a bigger world, and Walt at his most vulnerable and Walt realizes Anthony’s resourcefulness and surprising gumption.”

Adam Nayman, AV Club, explains the title as well as key plot development: “…The Confirmation opens with 8-year-old Anthony…reluctantly taking confession with his local priest; the joke is that, when pressed, an innocent pre-teen boy can’t really think of anything he’s done wrong. By the end of the film, Anthony will have amassed a (modest) list of sins, but more importantly, he’ll have a much better understanding of the idea of forgiveness…”

In the end Walt will have been partly responsible for this lesson, states Soren Andersen (Seattle Times), for “giving [Anthony] sound advice on how to understand religion and, more broadly, how to successfully navigate in the world: ‘Listen to what they say, then decide for yourself what you think is right’.”

The trailer for The Confirmation follows:

Selected Reviews

Tirdad Derakhshani, Philly.com: “A sparse, minimalist story set in a Raymond Carveresque world of boozy tragedy, it evokes the experience of spiritual awakening quietly, with sly subtlety and an outstanding sense of irony.”

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “The movie’s not just good but moving, funny, and true to the way people actually live in hard-times America.”

Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com: “This is a smart, effective coming-of-age tale about a boy figuring out that there are gray areas to life’s moral choices.”

Jul 05

Myths About Addiction from An Expert

Psychiatrist and addiction expert Akikur Mohammad, M.D. is the medical director for Inspire Malibu in Los Angeles. His recent book The Anatomy of Addiction: What Science and Research Tell Us About the True Causes, Best Preventive Techniques, and Most Successful Treatments includes a chapter on the top myths about addiction.

As found on InspireMalibu.comMohammad’s 10 top myths about addiction are presented below with excerpts I’ve taken from his explanations:

1. Addiction is a Problem of Willpower and Abstinence, Which is Why Medications Don’t Work. Possibly the “biggest addiction myth…Essentially all major medical organizations around the world agree that addiction is a disease of the brain and should be treated like any other disease.”

2. Addicts Should Be Punished for Using Drugs and Drinking Too Much Because in the End, They Know Better. “Going back to Myth #1, it’s not a crime to have a disease and we shouldn’t punish addicts for using drugs just as we shouldn’t punish people for using an inhaler or insulin.”

3. Alcohol is Different from Other Drugs Because it’s Easier to Control and You’re Less Likely to Become Addicted to It. “While it may not be as addictive as other drugs such as heroin or opioids, it is still a very addictive substance and causes more deaths each year than all other drugs. It can also be the most difficult to treat because it acts on multiple brain receptors instead of just one or two, like most other drugs.”

4. Virtually Everyone Who Uses Meth or Crack Will Become Addicts. “Most meth or crack users never become addicts and they stop using before it becomes a problem because they simply don’t like it…Because users snort, smoke or inject these drugs, they can be highly addictive, but that’s not the same thing as saying all users will become addicted.”

5. People Addicted to One Drug Are Addicted to All of Them. “…(F)or most, the drug of choice that they become addicted to corresponds to their individual brain chemistry. Some users will smoke pot and use alcohol at the same time while another person will only smoke pot but not like the effects of drinking alcohol, and vice versa.”

6. Prescription Pills are Safer Than Illegal Street Drugs Because They’ve Been Prescribed by a Doctor. “Not only is this a myth but it’s a dangerous one…The problem begins when people misuse those prescriptions and take more than they were prescribed or continue taking them after the prescription runs out. Some will even go ‘doctor shopping’ to get multiple prescriptions.”

7. Today’s Marijuana is Extremely Powerful and a Leading Cause of Drug Overdose. “It’s true that today’s marijuana is more powerful than it was years ago, but that’s the only part of this myth that’s true…Cannabinoid receptors are not located in the brainstem, which controls breathing; so lethal overdoses are not possible like with other drugs that are affected by respiration.”

8. Heroin is Mainly a Ghetto Drug. “Even if heroin was once confined to the backstreets, today it has hit mainstream America and is being used by those from all walks of life. What began as a prescription pill epidemic has become a heroin epidemic.”

9. Alcoholics and Addicts Have to Hit Rock Bottom Before They Can Be Treated Effectively. “Rock Bottom may be a motivator for some people to finally get help, but the fact remains that early intervention is not only more successful at treating addiction, but it alleviates a lot of the pain and damage done from addiction by treating the problem early.”

10. Treating Addiction with Medications Won’t Work Because You’re Just Substituting One Drug for Another. “Addiction causes the reward pathways in the brain to stop functioning properly because of over-stimulation. From a medical perspective, the best way to treat this is to stop the over-stimulation so the brain can return to normal. The addictive behavior and cravings can be halted through the use of pharmaceutical medications that are proven to be effective.”

Another myth Mohammad has dispelled elsewhere: Relapse leads to never getting better (ArleneHowardPR.com, 2014): “Actually, the relapse rate for addiction is typical of chronic diseases, slightly more than diabetes and less than hypertension and asthma…Modern-day diagnostics indicate that most brains eventually return to relatively normal when the drug use stops.”

Apr 29

Artistic Legends: Mental Health Issues

The following new films portray the real-life addictions and mental health issues of four different artistic legends. *

I. BORN TO BE BLUE

Stephen Holden, New York Times, calls Born to Be Blue a “Portrait of a Trumpeter as a Heroin Addict.” The musician, played by Ethan Hawke, is Chet Baker (1929-1988).

Why the heroin? “It makes me happy,” says Chet. What does it do? “It gives me confidence.”

Sam Fragaso, The Playlist: “The movie catches up with Baker after he had fallen into a downward spiral of heroin and despondency. Come 1967, after he had essentially jettisoned every person in his life that cared about him, Baker wanted to make a comeback.”

Salamishah TilletNew York Times:

…(I)t is Baker’s relationship with Jane Azeku (Carmen Ejogo), a composite of his three wives, that is the heart of the film. That Baker did not have an African-American wife, or had a reputation for dating African-American women, as implied by his mother in the movie, matters little. Rather, Jane is both a stand-in for and safeguard against Baker’s own racial anxiety as a white trumpeter best known for his looks, his singing and his cool West Coast sound. His desire to be accepted by Miles Davis as a peer and not a white interloper might be a cause of his heroin use and subsequent physical and musical decline but that does not result in full self-annihilation. The film’s ultimate message about his drug abuse is much more ambivalent: Being high enables him, as he says, to walk through ‘the spaces inside and between notes,’ and ultimately make the best music of his career in his final decades in Europe.

II. MILES AHEAD

Don Cheadle is trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-1991), another of the artistic legends, in Miles AheadDavid A. Graham,The Atlantic:

In the late 1970s, after driving hard into a psychedelic, electric direction, Davis quit music, entering a reclusive haze of debauchery, pornography, cocaine, and dissolution. (Don’t take it from me, or from Cheadle. Davis described it unblinkingly in his autobiography.) Cheadle’s Davis is bitter, violent, coke-addled, physically spent, and has let his chops go so far that he can’t really play his horn. Jheri-curled, balding, and sporting a wardrobe that is (generously) an amazing period piece, he lounges around his darkened apartment, haunted by memories of his ex-wife Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who left him over his violent abuse and endless philandering.

III. PAPA HEMINGWAY IN CUBA

Writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) famously committed suicide by gunshot. About Papa Hemingway in Cuba, Eric Althoff, Washington Times: “[It] follows reporter Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi), who travels to Cuba to meet the mercurial scribe (Adrian Sparks) just as communist revolution is breaking out across the island. Myers encounters not only history in progress but also Hemingway’s notorious mood swings and temper and signature bouts of drinking.”

Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire: “Much of the film is given over to Hemingway’s self-pitying rambles, domestic arguments with his wife, bouts of flirtation with a loaded revolver, and paranoiac mania. And here’s the thing: it’s all true, if we’re to trust the story of Denne Bart Petitclerc, the screenwriter who was Ribisi’s character in real life.”

IV. NINA

A measly 3% on Rotten Tomatoes, Nina, the new biopic about Nina Simone (1933-2003) has suffered from poor advance publicity for the choice of altering star Zoe Saldana‘s face, including darkening her skin—and now poor reviews.

Christian Holub, Entertainment Weekly: “Nina is a by-the-numbers musical biopic riddled with every conceivable cliché about ‘the tortured artist’.”

…(M)ost of the film takes place in 1995, when Simone brings psychiatric nurse Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo) to France in order to be her personal assistant. There’s a reason the position was open: Simone refuses to eat or take medicine, opting to spend her time drinking and sleeping. Clifton tries his best to get her healthy and working again, but his only reward for this effort is a slew of homophobic slurs. He tries leaving, only to get roped back into Simone’s service because … well, it’s not really clear why Clifton would want to work for Nina.

Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian, compares it unfavorably to the recent documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, “an eye-opening account of the classically trained pianist-turned-High Priestess of Soul who suffered managerial/spousal abuse, alcoholism and mental illness.”

*Due to a website problem, this post was accidentally deleted earlier today. Therefore, I’ve republished it.