Lillian Wilson

The Science of Addiction by Carlton K. Erickson

This book provides a comprehensive exploration of addiction, drawing on neuroscience, genetics, and pharmacology to shed light on the complex nature of substance abuse.

The Science of Addiction

The book has received 4.07 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

Every year, addiction and substance abuse take a heavy toll globally. Alcohol alone is responsible for 5.3% of annual deaths worldwide, affecting 1 in every 20 people, with around 300 million individuals grappling with alcohol use disorders. This review delves into a book The Science of Addiction by Carlton K. Erickson, which addresses these pressing issues, examining its insights and research in the fight against addiction. Join us as we explore this informative book’s quest to uncover addiction’s complexities and offer valuable knowledge to combat this global problem.

Author’s background

Carlton K. Erickson, Ph.D., holds the esteemed position of Professor of Pharmacology/Toxicology and serves as the Associate Dean overseeing Research and Graduate Studies.

Carlton K. Erickson

He leads the Addiction Science Research and Education Center within the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin and is also an associate editor for the scholarly publication Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

What is the book about?

The Science of Addiction by Carlton K. Erickson is a pioneering exploration into the evolving world of addiction science. This book brings exciting news to the forefront, revealing the pivotal roles of neuroscience and genetics in shedding light on the complex causes of compulsive alcohol and drug use.

Erickson delves into the burgeoning body of evidence indicating that certain individuals, though not all, grappling with excessive alcohol or drug consumption are afflicted by a challenging brain disease that proves resistant to treatment. Notably, this classification does not encompass everyone colloquially labelled as an addict, as the majority of drug users do not exhibit the characteristics of compulsive drug use disorder.

The book covers the following topics:

  • What is addiction

  • Brain disease aspect of addiction

  • Medical diagnosis of addiction

  • Neural mechanisms underlying addiction

  • Genetic underpinnings of addiction

  • Pharmacology of stimulants and depressants

  • Pharmacological aspects of alcohol addiction

  • Strategies for addiction treatment and addressing drug overuse problems

With The Science of Addiction, readers embark on a comprehensive journey into the intricate world of addiction, benefiting from the latest scientific insights, research, and perspectives on this complex issue.

Table of contents

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: What Addiction Is and What It Is Not
  • Chapter 2: Is Drug Addiction a Chronic Medical Brain Disease?
  • Chapter 3: How Do They Diagnose the Disease of Addiction?
  • Chapter 4: Basically, How Does the Brain Work?
  • Chapter 5: Where and How Does Addiction Occur?
  • Chapter 6: Genetics: Mom and Dad’s Contributions
  • Chapter 7: Drugs That Stimulate and Depress Us
  • Chapter 8: Alcohol, Our Most Popular Legal Drug
  • Chapter 9: Other Drugs That Turn Us On
  • Chapter 10: The Treatment of Addiction Should Be Easy, Right?
  • Chapter 11: Treating Addiction: What Are the Choices?
  • Chapter 12: Addiction Research: Good News and Bad News
  • Chapter 13: What’s Exciting About Future Addiction Research?
  • Appendix A: Alcohol Concepts for the Aspiring Neuropharmacologist
  • Appendix B: Drug Concepts for the Aspiring Neuropharmacologist
  • Glossary
  • References

Three key takeaways from The Science of Addiction

1Addiction can potentially be considered a brain disease

One of the key takeaways from Carlton K. Erickson’s book, The Science of Addiction, is the compelling argument that addiction is, indeed, a chronic, medical brain disease. This assertion is substantiated by extensive research in genetics, neurobiology, and pharmacology, providing a clear understanding of the condition’s biological basis. Erickson emphasises the significance of pinpointing the specific brain area, the mesolimbic dopamine system (MDS), where addiction occurs. This knowledge not only aids in diagnosis but also alleviates the shame, guilt, and denial often experienced by individuals struggling with addiction, fostering a more compassionate and effective approach to treatment.

Moreover, the book draws parallels between addiction and established medical diseases, highlighting the similarities in characteristics and the need for a unified perspective. The comparison reveals that addiction possesses the hallmarks of a chronic, relapsing, medical brain disease, warranting the same attention, care, and treatment as other well-accepted medical conditions. Erickson’s comprehensive exploration challenges misconceptions, encourages open-mindedness and ultimately empowers readers to make informed judgments about the nature of addiction.

2Genes do play a role in addiction susceptibility, but they are not the sole determinants

Each person’s unique genotype, resulting from a combination of specific alleles, influences their predisposition to various characteristics, including addiction susceptibility. The interplay between genetics and environmental factors, such as lifestyle and exposure to substances, further complicates the genetic landscape of addiction.

Genetic studies, like the Collaborative Studies on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), have made significant progress in identifying the genetic components of alcoholism and related phenotypes. These studies demonstrate that addiction is a polygenic disease influenced by multiple genes, with some individuals inheriting a greater number of addiction-related genes than others. The intricate relationship between genes, environmental factors, and addiction susceptibility underscores the multifaceted nature of this complex disorder.

3Alcohol – the most popular drug

The book provides a comprehensive examination of the effects of alcohol on the brain and body and reveals the profound impact of heavy and prolonged drinking on nervous system function and overall health. While moderate alcohol consumption may not be highly toxic to the body, chronic and excessive use can lead to a range of severe consequences. Notably, the book underscores the long-term damage alcohol inflicts on the brain, as demonstrated through MRI studies revealing structural changes and volume reductions in critical brain regions. Additionally, it emphasises the role of metabolism, toxic breakdown products like acetaldehyde, and the variation in individual responses to alcohol in determining its effects. As a whole, the book provides a crucial resource for understanding the intricate relationship between alcohol and the human body, shedding light on the potential consequences of excessive drinking and the importance of responsible alcohol consumption.

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • Carleton Erickson demonstrates a remarkable balance of expertise in the field of addiction, offering well-reasoned evidence and addressing objections effectively.

  • Offers a unique emphasis on the neurobiological and physiological aspects of addiction, making it stand out as an informative resource.


  • Some readers may find the scientific terminology difficult to grasp initially, requiring additional research and exploration of terms to fully understand the content.

  • Despite being informative, the book lacks sufficient practical guidance for those seeking insights into addiction treatment strategies.

Best quotes from The Science of Addiction

“The chances are that readers of this book have been so severely affected by drug problems in their family or in society that they will want to find ways to help those in need or those they love. An accurate understanding of what drugs do and what they don't do, as well as what Addiction is what it is not, is therefore critical to overcoming drug problems.”
“People often wonder how alcohol can be a legal, socially accepted drug when most other mood-altering drugs are illegal to possess, sell, or use. Alcohol’s use is historical, and to prohibit its sale and use would break established cultural, religious, and social traditions, as well as cause significant federal and state tax-revenue losses.”
“Research shows that alcohol can cause permanent problems with nervous system function. We know that people who drink heavily over a prolonged period may have memory loss, confusion, and often problems with feelings and sensations in their hands and feet.”

Final takeaway

The Science of Addiction by Carlton K. Erickson offers a pioneering and comprehensive exploration into the intricate world of addiction. With a focus on the roles of neuroscience and genetics in understanding addiction, Erickson presents compelling arguments that addiction can be considered a chronic brain disease, emphasising its biological basis within the mesolimbic dopamine system. The book challenges misconceptions and fosters a compassionate approach to treatment. It also highlights the interplay between genetics and environmental factors in addiction susceptibility and provides valuable insights into the effects of alcohol on the brain and body.

While some readers may find the scientific terminology challenging and seek more practical treatment guidance, this book is an essential read for those looking to gain a deep understanding of addiction’s complex nature, making it particularly valuable for healthcare professionals, researchers, and anyone affected by addiction in their lives.

Where to buy

You may purchase The Science of Addiction on Amazon at the best price. It is available in paperback, hardcover, spiral bound, audio and Kindle versions, so you may choose an option that appeals to you the most.

Healthypedia FAQ

The book provides a comprehensive examination of alcohol's impact on the brain and body, highlighting the long-term damage of heavy drinking through MRI studies and emphasising the importance of responsible alcohol consumption.

Yes, The Science of Addiction is a reliable source of information, given the author's background as a Ph.D. professor in pharmacology/toxicology and the book's reliance on scientific research and evidence.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in addiction science, healthcare professionals, substance abuse counsellors, or individuals seeking to better understand addiction's complexities from a neurobiological perspective.

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