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Recommended Reading

Don’t have time to read The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health? Read these instead.

In 2016, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health was published, becoming the first surgeon general’s report to address substance use disorders and the wider range of health problems and consequences related to alcohol and drug misuse in the United States. Aimed to galvanize the public, policymakers and health care systems to create new opportunities for increased access to effective prevention and treatment services, the 413-page report provides a roadmap for how to work together to move efforts forward.

At the National Collegiate Recovery Conference at George Washington University in July 2017 during a panel on the state of the field in addiction recovery, experts discussed the overall field of addiction and recovery and advancements in research and technology and recommended reading in addition to the surgeon general’s report. Here are their suggestions.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

A best-selling memoir by David Sheff, Beautiful Boy describes how his family dealt with his son Nic’s crystal meth addiction. The book covers Nic’s life, tracing his journey from a charming college-bound athlete who was adored by his two younger siblings to a desperate young adult who lied, stole and lived on the streets.

Sheff desperately sought clues as to what had happened to his son and his family and what he had done wrong, and it wasn’t long before his preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself. A journalist by trade, he researched every possible way he might be able to help his son and wrote to try to make sense of what was happening. In Beautiful Boy, he recounts the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.

“Our family’s story is unique of course, but it is universal, too, in the way that every tale of addiction resonates with every other one,” Sheff writes.

— Recommended by Phil Skolnick, chief scientific officer at Opiant Pharmaceuticals

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

In Dreamland, award-winning journalist Sam Quinones tells the story of the evolving opioid epidemic in Mexico and the United States. Combining relentless reporting and talented storytelling, Quinones weaves together places and characters — from pioneers in pharmaceutical laboratories to young entrepreneurs in the poppy-growing regions of Mexico to soccer moms in Portsmouth, Ohio — to show how more than half a million Americans a year now use heroin.

“Like no other particle on earth, the morphine molecule seemed to possess heaven and hell,” Quinones writes. “It allowed for modern surgery, saving and improving too many lives to count. It stunted and ended too many lives to count with addiction and overdose. Discussing it, you could invoke some of humankind’s greatest cultural creations and deepest questions: Faust, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, discussions on the fundamental nature of man and human behavior, of free will and slavery, of God and evolution. Studying the molecule you naturally wandered into questions like, can mankind achieve happiness without pain? Would that happiness even be worth it? Can we have it all?”

—Recommended by Tom Coderre, senior adviser to Altarum’s Behavioral Health Technical Assistance Center

Hijacked Brains: The Experience and Science of Chronic Addiction

As an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing primary care physician for more than 30 years, Henrietta Robin Barnes has cared for a lot of people with chronic illnesses, including addiction. In Hijacked Brains, Barnes combines personal narratives and recent studies in brain science to show how addictive drugs overtake basic brain functions and transform them to create a chronic illness that is very difficult to treat.

The book provides a basic understanding of what is known about addiction scientifically, how it is perceived and discriminated against in the U.S., and how it is lived by those suffering from it. At the heart of the book are the lives of Barnes’ patients.

“This book follows the trajectory of people’s struggles with addictive drugs, from their learning to use those drugs, to the science of brain dysfunction that may be triggered by use and lead to devastating consequences, and finally to addicted people’s efforts to use whatever innate internal strengths and available external resources they have, or can learn, in order to get their illness into remission — to move from a state of overwhelming impulsive thoughts and behaviors to abstinence, toward learning how to work and to love again, or for the first time. Their courage humbles me; their lives are testaments to the durability of the human spirit.”

— Recommended by Fr. Mark Hushen, president of Ashley Addiction Treatment

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. Conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ACE Study found that adverse childhood experiences — categorized into three groups: abuse, neglect and family/household challenges — are common, they often occur together and they have a dose-response relationship with many health problems (which means that as the exposure to the stressor increases, the intensity of the outcome also increases).

Prior to the ACE Study, the relationship of health risk behavior and disease in adulthood to the breadth of exposure to childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse and household dysfunction during childhood had not previously been described. Since its publication, more than 50 scientific articles and more than 100 conference and workshop presentations have looked at the prevalence and consequences of ACE.

— Recommended by Kana Enomoto, acting deputy assistant secretary for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

By Kelsey Allen

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