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With His New Book “The Urge”, Dr. Carl Erik Fisher Explores Addiction Through History, Approaches to Treatment, and His Own Life  

It’s no small project to write a history of addiction. When the author grounds such a history in personal experience, the challenge becomes even greater. Psychiatrist and substance use specialist Carl Erik Fisher has done both in his ambitious new book.

As long as people throughout history have had problems with substance use or other addictive behaviors,” says Carl Erik Fisher, “there’s been this thread of pessimism, fatalism, the notion that people are broken, the notion that they can’t do any differently. And that’s such a powerful negative stereotype to resist. It’s so important to recognize the possibility for change.” 

These insights and many others arise in Fisher’s absorbing interview with Allies’ own Dominique Simon-Levine, Laurie MacDougall, and Kayla Solomon. You can hear their whole conversation in our just-released Coming Up for Air Podcast

The interview coincides with the release of Fisher’s long, scholarly and entirely readable new book, The Urge: Our History of Addiction. In it, Fisher traces the idea of addiction back to the earliest accounts of the phenomenon, and tackles the thorniest of questions about its nature: to what degree is it a product of biology? To what degree of lived experience? How do we untangle the stubborn knot these two factors tend to form in each individual who suffers from addiction? 

The book also contains a frank account of Fisher’s own struggles with substance use. And so much more: the front-page New York Times review offers a fine survey of the range and subtlety of the ideas he explores. 

One part of the history he tells is the history of approaches to treating (and not treating) addiction. The birth, growth, and evolution of Alcoholics Anonymous is a prominent example. In a delightful editorial in The Washington Post, he zooms in on the singular figure of Marty Mann, a well-to-do socialite who turned her own crushing struggle with alcoholism into an unstoppable drive to advance AA—and to transform how America understood the disease. 

Allies in Recovery salutes Dr. Fisher for his many accomplishments in the study and treatment of addiction. We’re tremendously lucky to have him as a colleague! 


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)