The Scream often starts closer to Home!



Why have I decided to review this!?
On first viewing superficial, flighty and poorly written….I am not sure why The Huffington Post in reviewing this book has stated that “the likely cause of addiction has been discovered” when the author’s understanding of addiction and the addicts in his own life is so limited and lacking any depth or intellectual rigor.

How it can be called “rigorous” by Glenn Greenwald beggars belief while Chomsky, one of personal intellectual heroes calls it “wonderful”. It is depressing when there is so much bluster over a work which then disappoints so profoundly! I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into this….

At times the book seems more about the author than the subject matter. 

If the author had stuck to his need for an end to the “War on drugs” argument instead of straying in territory he obviously knew very little about, i.e. theories of addiction, this book would have been more convincing. He did meet some fascinating characters along the way although he refers to them quite glibly at times.

When he discusses addiction it is through the lens and academic work of Bruce Alexander who in his “Rat Park” series of experiments in the late 1970s came to the conclusion that addiction is primarily a social disease, caused by the wider environment, that society (particularly capitalist society) creates addiction, via social  disconnection.  He seeks to extrapolate the finding that rats who have been deprived of maternal deprivation and who appeared to then become more addicted to drugs than others who were not deprived to wider human society in all it’s complexity.


Some have also viewed Alexander’s ideas as overly naive and simplistic.

Some studies have failed to reproduce the original experiment’s results, but in at least one of these studies (1) both caged and “park” rats showed a decreased preference for morphine, suggesting a genetic difference.


I disagree that it is addiction is caused solely by societal or cultural means although each has a part to play as a part of a wider environmental influence which would also include family  environment, particularly as the majority of addicts appear to have suffered some form of childhood maltreatment, some form of abuse, sexual, emotional or mental, and some form of insecure attachment.

I believe these environmental issues also shape neurobiological and psychological aspects such as altering stress systems in the brain which effects the ability to process and regulate emotion which in turns drives a pathomechanism which results in eventual compulsive addictive behaviour.

Only by addressing a bio-psycho-social approach can we never hope to gain insight into this disorder of addiction. Addiction is a complicated matter and implicates everything from genes to environment and everything in between so “a likely cause” of addiction seems fanciful to say the least.

In a bio-psycho-social approach every strata effects the other and at all times, they are continually reciprocal. They are inseparable so any theory of addiction needs to account for everything or be more circumspect in it’s claims.

We look for simple answers while dismissing factors just as important or seen as opposing when we should always look for synthesis. 

Addicts need our help now! Not by overturning the capitalist system but by identifying the causes of addiction closer to home, in inherited genetic make up, in abusive family backgrounds, in social deprivation in their communities, in a legal system that criminalizes those with mental disorders for the manifestation of their disorder, i.e. the procuring and taking of drugs, in a society that actively encourages binge drinking, excessive gambling etc and social isolation via an increasingly disconnected society.

Even within a capitalistic system we can surely work greatly to address many of these issues without complete and quite unrealistic overhaul.

If I find anything else in this book worth further debating I”ll blog on it another time.

Here’s some excerpts from The Guardian’s review of this book

“But what Chasing the Scream betrays is a little more complicated than the zero-sum stuff of truth and fiction. He took the very modern career path of becoming a high-profile polemicist before he had done much reporting, and perhaps as a result his writing is too melodramatic, a little naive, and reluctant to give a fair shout to the other side of the argument – things reflected in a tone that too often falls into being either shrill, or over-emotional.”

“His biggest problems, though, are a tendency to insert himself into the cracks between his stories, and his often histrionic turn of phrase. No one, it seems, has explained to him the strengths of the show-don’t-tell school of non-fiction writing. He tells the grim story of a cop’s rape of a heroin-addicted woman and the resultant birth of a child who went on to be a dealer, but then ends it with a real clunker: “a child of the drug war in the purest sense – he was conceived on one of its battlefields”.

“Later, when he compares the compulsion to gamble with drug addiction, he superfluously points out that “you don’t inject a deck of cards into veins; you don’t snort a roulette wheel”.

Chasing the Scream is a powerful contribution to an urgent debate, but this is its central problem: in contrast to the often brutal realities it describes, it uses the gauche journalistic equivalent of the narrative voice found in Mills & Boon novels. Amid Mexican sand dunes, he tells us, Hari thought about the drug wars’ endless downsides as he “ran my fingers through the prickly hot white sand” and crassly imagined the joyous lives of local teenagers in a world free of gangsters (“Juan, stripped of his angel wings, is chatting with Rosalio about World of Warcraft”).

By the end, as he discusses the details of taxing marijuana with a civil servant from Colorado, he says that he is “bored at last, and I realise a tear of relief is running down my cheek”. Thanks to such melodrama, and the book’s slightly excitable tone, one conclusion is all but inescapable. The title of Chasing the Scream is a reference to the young Harry Anslinger’s experience of hearing a drug-addicted woman howl for a fix, but it might easily apply to the sensibility of the author himself.”


  1. Petrie, B.F., Psychol Rep. 1996, 78, 391–400. PMID 9148292