Book Review: The Fix by Damian Thompson

Fr. Joel The Loving Life

This book could be addictive…

What do iPhones, cupcakes, vicodin and internet porn have in common? They are all addictive, according to Damian Thompson, author of The Fix: How addiction is taking over your World. Thompson, it quickly becomes obvious, is no stranger to addiction. He gives details about his own experiences with alcohol, prescription drugs and even an addiction to buying classical music. His central thesis is that our brain chemistry makes us vulnerable not only to addictive substances, but also to addictive behaviors. All kinds of companies are learning to exploit our addictability to their own profit, he claims. His stories provide a window into the incredible depth and breadth of addictive behavior. All addictions seem to have in common a sense of anxiety that is satisfied by some kind of behavior or substance, leaving the subject in peace for a little while. Then the anxiety returns, leading to more using.

Perhaps the best part of the book was the section on the chemistry of addiction. Fueled by dopamine, brain chemistry makes our wanting urges more powerful than our liking urgesA dopamine rush happens when we anticipate reward, but the reward chemicals that follow are often a let-down. This causes us to keep wanting, which leads to addictive patterns like gambling, shopping, and internet porn. We do whatever we can to stimulate the wanting so we can get back to the high.

The Fix reads less like a scientific documentary and more like an updated version of Super Size Me, as he bounces between personal vignettes, anecdotal stories and interviews with various experts. Oddly enough, I had expected more  depth and found the book to be a let down, especially the final chapter. Purporting to provide us with some kind of solution, the chapter wanders back into already covered material, leading a reader to despair of a solution to The Fix.

Should you read it? Yes, but download the Kindle version so you don’t have to wait as long :-). Seriously, it opened my eyes the presence of addiction all around us, even in the most unlikely places. Shortly after reading the book I went along on a school fieldtrip. I watched dopamine junkies in action as the children mobbed the gift shop looking for instant gratification. One child, after leaving the store with some merchandise, was overcome with the sadness that she hadn’t bought enough. She obsessed about it until she could return to the gift shop again, only to find that it had closed. She immediately looked around for a new fix and spied a soda-pop machine. It wouldn’t accept her crinkled dollar bills, leading her to become anxious (it didn’t help that the soda cost $1.25). Finally, with two consecutive good bills, the bottle dropped and a taste of the sugary liquid calmed her down. How many of the behaviors and substances in our lives are being used in unhealthy ways? Jesus promises peace to His disciples, but we have to let go of false sources of peace in order to accept His true and lasting peace. This book might reveal some of your false sources of peace.