Mind-Altering Drugs: The Science of Subjective Experience

Mind-Altering Drugs: The Science of Subjective Experience

by Mitch Earleywine

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At least one of every three Americans has used an illicit drug. Drugs attract considerable attention in science, legislation, and the media. Nonetheless, many people develop attitudes about drugs and drug users based on limited information. Researchers often find themselves divided into camps based on the drug they study most often, which limits their ability to


At least one of every three Americans has used an illicit drug. Drugs attract considerable attention in science, legislation, and the media. Nonetheless, many people develop attitudes about drugs and drug users based on limited information. Researchers often find themselves divided into camps based on the drug they study most often, which limits their ability to benefit from important work done on other drugs. As a result, government policies form without a complete understanding of the intoxication experience. What is the nature of intoxication? At first, this question appears to be simple and straightforward, but upon closer inspection, the dichotomous distinctions between everyday awareness and its alternatives grow fuzzy. An in-depth examination of the subjective effects of drugs and the pursuit of altered states soon leads to age-old questions about free will, heredity, environment, and consciousness. Mind-Altering Drugs is the first book to bring together chapters from leading researchers that present diverse, empirically based insights into the subjective experiences of drugs a nd their links to addictive potential. By avoiding simple depictions of psychoactive chemicals and the people who use them, these recognized experts explain how modern research in many fields reveals a complex interaction between people, situations, and substances. Their work demonstrates that only a multitude of approaches can show the nuances of subjective experience, and that each substance may create a different effect with every administration in each user. Simple references to physiological underpinnings or positive reinforcement fail to explain the diverse responses to drugs. However, research has progressed to reveal broad, repeatable evidence that the subjective effects of substances play an important role in our understanding of drug abuse, and so should inform our decisions about policy.
This thorough and accessible review of the subjective effects of drugs and the dominant theories behind those effects will provide a wealth of information about the experience of intoxication for lay readers, and a road map to studies in other disciples for student and professional researchers.

Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Regina Rosa Lopez, MD (University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine)
Description: This is a review of the subjective effects of drugs, the theories behind these effects, and their possible treatment implications. Included is the relevant research in this area.
Purpose: The purpose is to provide the reader with a clear sense of the theories and techniques behind the investigations of intoxication and how subjective experiences relate to addictive potential. Interestingly, the book should "help people make educated decisions about drug use" according to the preface. Another objective is to help researchers identify ideal ways to assess a drug's subjective experience. The objectives are worthy, although, I am not sure what is meant by helping people make educated decisions about drug use.
Audience: According to the author, the intended audience is clinicians and researchers. I think the book is elementary for this audience in its treatment of neuropharmacology. The book would probably be manageable for educated people outside of the field.
Features: The book covers the subjective effects of alcohol and illicit and prescription drugs. It details the biological, social, and psychological factors contributing to these effects. In addition, individual differences in the subjective effects are reviewed.
Assessment: The studies are the best feature of the book, because they are not only relevant but interesting to read. The shortcoming is that the biological theories are not adequately covered. The book is interesting, offering new perspectives on drug addiction. With the exception of the biological theories, I found the other theories to be informative.
3 Stars from Doody
From the Publisher
"The book is interesting, offering new perspectives on drug addiction."—Doody's book Review

"People are attracted to drug use for many reasons, chief among them being how various substances affect our feelings and thoughts. This book provides unique descriptions and related research about the subjective effects of both licit and illicit drugs and how certain vary in their risk level for addiction (gender and ethnic differences). I highly recommend Mind-Altering Drugs for professionals in both the research and treatment fields."—G. Alan Marlatt, Professor and Director, Addictive Behaviors Research Center, Department of Psychology, University of Washington

"Dr. Earleywine's latest book on substance abuse provides a provocative perspective on the effects of drugs. Working with a group of experts with varying experimental and philosophical approaches, he has produced an insightful, direct, humorous and highly readable overview of the controversial issue of subjective effects. I recommend the book to all who want to better understand the interactive role of biology, expectations, environmental context, drug type and drug dose on any reported (subjective) drug effect."—Sara Jo Nixon, Professor & Director, Neurocognitive Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky

"This remarkable work takes on the task of categorizing subjective experiences of drug use. These drugs include not only illicit drugs but also alcohol, cigarettes, and even antidepressants, as well as non-drug experiences, such as biofeedback. In their efforts to categorize these experiences, a distinguished array of contributors endeavors to understand gender, personality, contextual, and genetic (among other) influences, and the impact of these experiences on use patterns, both positive and negative. In a field that often leaves out the crucial human dimension to drug use and abuse, Mind-Altering Drugs takes the field one level higher. Any work on human responses to drug use will, from this point on, have to stand on the back of this monumental work."—Stanton Peele, Author of Love and Addiction, The Meaning of Addiction, and 7 Tools to Beat Addiction.

"Understanding the effects of drugs on subjective experience is essential for discovering why people choose to use drugs. This is not a new idea, but has proven to ben an elusive concept to study. Earleywine has assembled a group of first-rate scientists whose own research informs many of the chapters. The volume provides an up-to-date, comprehensive, and readable account of what is known about subjective drug effects (both positive and negative), and thus is a valuable guide for researchers and clinicians. The chapters allow the evidence to dictate conclusions and not the other way around, as is often the case in the controversial domains of drug research and policy. What emerges is a complex pattern of effects that help explain both the allure and the hazards of drug use."—Michael Sayette, Professor of Psychology and Director, Alcohol and Smoking Research Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh

"Comprehensive and updated discussions critically evaluate the psychological experiences promoting habitual alcohol and drug consumption. Individual vulnerability characteristics and neuropharmacological mechanisms are jointly discussed to answer the age-old question regarding why chemicals originally discovered or developed for therapeutic value are voluntarily used and abused for their subjective effects. This is an excellent compendium of this key facet of etiology."—Ralph E. Tarter, Director, Center for Education and Drug Abuse Research, and Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh

"...the book is well written and informative...This volume will appeal to and be received well by researchers, clinicians, and interested students and professionals. It makes a nice contribution to our growing knowledge about the effects of mind-altering drugs."—PsycCRITIQUES

"...I would recommend this book to those involved in research or clinical work with mind-altering substances."—Drug and Alcohol Review

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Mitch Earleywine is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Southern California, where he teaches drugs and human behavior, substance abuse treatment and clinical research methods. He has received 10 teaching commendations, including the coveted General Education Teaching Award. He received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1990. His research has been funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as well as the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation. He serves on the editorial boards of three psychology journals, reviews for over a dozen, and has more than fifty publications on drug use and abuse, including Understanding Marijuana (Oxford University Press 2002). He is also Resident Faculty in Parkside International Residential College. He has been quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Time, and The Nation. He has also appeared on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" and "Weekend Editon".

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