We live in an age of addiction, from compulsive gaming and shopping to binge eating and opioid abuse. Sugar can be as habit-forming as cocaine, researchers tell us, and social media apps are hooking our kids. But what can we do to resist temptations that insidiously and deliberately rewire our brains? Nothing, David Courtwright says, unless we understand the history and character of the global enterprises that create and cater to our bad habits.
The Age of Addiction chronicles the triumph of “limbic capitalism”, the growing network of competitive businesses targeting the brain pathways responsible for feeling, motivation, and long-term memory. We see its success in Steve Wynn’s groundbreaking casinos and Purdue Pharma’s pain pills, in McDonald’s engineered burgers and Tencent video games from China. All capitalize on the ancient quest to discover, cultivate, and refine new and habituating pleasures.
Courtwright holds out hope that limbic capitalism can be contained by organized opposition from across the political spectrum. Progressives, nationalists, and traditionalists have worked together against the purveyors of addiction before. They could do it again.