Monday 17 June 2013

Read in 2013 - 18: Craving

This is a double première on my blog: not only is it the first time that I was invited to review a work of non-fiction, but my review will also include the author's own comments.
So, without further ado, here is my review of "Craving":

Some time ago, I was approached via my blog by the author of this book, Omar Manejwala, M.D., asking whether I'd like to review it. Now, this post wouldn't be here if I had said no, would it! Please note that I am merely stating my personal opinion of the book here. Yours may differ from it – that's fine, and no matter whether you agree with me or not, I'd like to hear from you. Therefore, please feel free to comment, whether you've read it or not.

„Craving“ is a good, informative read which taught me quite a few things about addiction that I had not known until then.
Most importantly for me, I now understand a lot better how much of addictive behaviour is actually the addict's „fault“, i.e. their conscious, deliberate decision, and how much of it is due to addiction mechanisms and behavioral patterns they can't help at that moment. This was something I have been struggling with for many years, having gained more experience with alcoholism in my immediate proximity than I ever asked for. So, this book helped to reconcile me with some of the things I witnessed in the past, and to view these situations from a different perspective in hindsight. Thank you, Omar! 

Everyone who'll read „Craving“ will, I hope, learn something from it – either for themselves, if they suffer an addiction, or in order to be better able to understand and help an addict in their family or among their friends.

Omar Manejwala writes in a manner that makes you imagine you sit in comfortable surroundings with him, listen to him talking and answering your questions, in a clear manner that makes you really understand what he is on about, without you having studied neurology and psychology – or studied anything at all. Don't get me wrong, he is never condescending, but manages very well to get even rather complex matters across. Sometimes, it is maybe this very wish to make everyone understand that leads him to repeat things. In some chapters (but not throughout the book), I kept reading and thought „he's already said that“ and „yeah, I get the idea“. That does not take away from how useful and fascinating the book is.

Its ten chapters are outlined in the introduction (which, in itself, is a little on the long side). They cover the basic facts of brain science in terms of craving and decision making, the role of bias in preventing us from always making rational choices, what all sorts of different addictions (gambling, food, sex, alcohol, drugs, internet, to name but a few) have in common, how thoughts, actions and experiences can change one's way of thinking (and actually, one's brain itself), why groups can be so helpful in addiction treatment; joy, hope and recovery, and much more. 

There are several pages at the back with useful practical advice for addicts (where to find help) and tips on how to deal with specific cravings, and many exact source notes that facilitate further reading.
To make it easier to use this book as some sort of reference work (although it is not intended as such, I think), a register would have been helpful. 

Something I find a bit confusing is the very frequent mentioning of Twelve Step Programs; the first time this term is used is as early as page 4, but either I have simply overlooked it or there really isn't an explanation/definition of what a Twelve Step Program is anywhere in the book.
Also, I don't really know what a halfway house is; do you? (I guessed the meaning from the context.) 

Again, let me emphasize my opinion that „Craving“ is a book that should not be missed if you are an addict yourself or in close contact with addicts. Very clearly, it says that it is not intended as a substitute for the advice of health care professionals. But it can point you or someone you care about into the right direction and change their (and your) life for the better.

To end with a quote from the book: "Recovery is about 5 percent what you stop doing and 95 percent what you start doing."

Here is Omar's reply:

Hi Meike,

Thanks for your kind words about Craving. I’m delighted you enjoyed it so much, and I hope your readers will appreciate the book as well.  Since everyone craves, I think it’s a very relevant topic.  Over the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in the U.S., and although Germany is doing better than we are, over half of Germans are obese or overweight.  Since cravings are at the heart of overeating, I think nearly everyone (not just addicts) can benefit by increasing their understanding of this complicated, pervasive phenomenon and what we know about how to manage it.

I’ve never been invited to respond to a review before, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on your take on the book.  I agree with you that a key insight is the understanding that addictive behavior is not the addicts “fault” but certainly is their responsibility.  The parts of the brain involved in decision-making, planning, habits, thoughts, memories, feelings are all affected by cravings. 

You can imagine that writing a book that explains something as complex as cravings is very difficult, because cravings are psychological, genetic, biological, social, and are affected by environment, trauma, cues, stress, upbringing…all of this needs to be covered if readers are to have an accurate, practical understanding of cravings and how to manage them effectively.  I’m glad you appreciated the manner in which Craving clarifies and simplifies these ideas without dumbing them down.  There are enough oversimplified books based on junk science, and I couldn’t in good conscience add another.

I really appreciate that you consider Craving to be a book that “that should not be missed if you are an addict yourself or in close contact with addicts.”  I hope that the affected and afflicted among your readers will check it out and participate in the conversation here on your blog as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Omar Manejwala, M.D.


  1. Since addiction, craving, and obesity has touched every life that i can think of, this book will be high on my list.

    1. A good choice for sure! I hope it helps you and whoever else may read it, as it has helped me in understanding some things much, much better.

  2. I just ordered a copy. It's my book addiction, you know.

    No, more seriously, I think I want to read this book more than once to understand a few things about myself and others.Twelve step program is sort of a household word here in the states, or at least something most people are aware of, and I think of it as the basis of Hazeldean. But probably the author should have spent a few sentences explaining it.

    1. This is interesting, Kristi, as I was thinking more than once while reading this book that I probably want to read it again at some stage.

      Thank you for pointing out that about Twelve step programs. Omar clearly had US readers in mind, for which the term did not need any explanation.

    2. The original Twelve Step Program was from the '30s, from Alcoholics Anonymous which began very close to where I live at a meeting in the gate house of Stan Hywet Hall, something I really must blog about some time. Stan Hywet, that is, not AA!

    3. Thank you!
      Yes, AA are frequently mentioned in the book, too, also in connection with Twelve Step Programs. I knew about AA, because they exist also in Germany and use the same acronym.
      Never heard of Stand Hywet, so it'll be interesting to read about him on your blog.

  3. I found it interesting that you did not know the 12 Step Program or the word "halfway house", but then, if this is not used in Germany, then you would not know of them! (Just type in 12 step is on Wikipedia)
    That's great that the author of this book was able to speak about his book on your blog.
    As always, Meike, a very good book review!

    1. Thanks, Kay! I'm glad Omar agreed to add his reply to my review. Hopefully, with one of my next reviews (fiction, this time), I'll be able to do that again, have the author have his say.

  4. That's really interesting Meike (and Omar). I've never really tried to understand cravings and have been very fortunate never to have had people close to me who have had addictions that have affected me adversely. I can never actually recall having real cravings (which does not mean to say that I don't have them by a clinical definition). I smoked cigarettes for a while (gave up in 1967 and have never wanted one since). I ate too much chocolate until a friend and I decided enough was enough nearly 10 years ago and now I have chocolates in the house and just have the occasional one with my coffee. I love wine. I decided a while ago that my habit of having two glasses and nuts with the 6 O'clock news was just a habit and have eliminated it without even thinking about it even though I've been doing it for quite a few years. I wonder, therefore, whether instead of cravings I have some different sort of social/psychological issues (sorry to Frances Garrood who, I think, dislike the use of that word in that context) which replaces them. It might well be a very interesting book to read.

    1. Your personal (non-)experience with cravings is very interesting, Graham, and quite unusual, I guess.
      Not unlike you, I can rather easily give up "habits" or change some pattern in my behaviour or my routine when I feel it should be changed. So maybe some of us can simply handle our cravings a bit easier than others.
      One fact about cravings Omar points out in his book is that most cravings do go away if we don't give in to them; not always quickly, but often, quicker than we think. So, in many cases, someone could just "ride it out" instead of giving in.