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The Urge: A History of Addiction

A sweeping history and a clinician's urgent call for a more expansive, nuanced and compassionate view of one of society's most difficult challenges

Carl Erik Fisher is a clinician, bioethicist and recovering alcoholic who has spent years tracing the history of addiction. As a psychiatrist-in-training fresh from medical school, Fisher faced his own addiction crisis, one that nearly cost him everything. Desperate to make sense of the condition that had plagued his family for generations, he turned to the history of addiction, learning that the current crisis is only the latest iteration of a centuries-old story: humans have struggled to define, treat and control addictive behaviour for most of recorded history, including well before the advent of modern science and medicine.

In February 2022 Fisher came to Intelligence Squared to address this seeming intractable problem. Drawing from his new book The Urge: Our History of Addiction, he probed not only medicine and science but also literature, religion, philosophy and public policy to show how addiction really works and why, from Ancient Greece to modern America, what we say about addiction reflects broader questions of what it means to be human in society. He also examined the treatments and strategies that have produced hope and relief for many people with addiction, himself included.



Carl Erik Fisher

Addiction physician and bioethicist. His latest book is The Urge: Our History of Addiction

Addiction physician and bioethicist. He is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, where he works in the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry. He also maintains a private psychiatry practice focusing on complementary and integrative approaches to treating addiction. His writing has appeared in Nautilus, Slate, and Scientific American MIND, among other outlets. His latest book is The Urge: Our History of Addiction.

Helen Czerski

One of the UK’s most popular science presenters

British oceanographer, physicist and television presenter. Her many programmes for radio and TV include Radio 4’s Inside Science, Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey, numerous Horizon documentaries, The Sky at Night, and Dara O Briain’s Science Club. She is a Research Fellow at University College London, and holds a PhD in experimental explosives physics. She is the author of Storm In A Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life. She gave the 2020 Royal Institution's annual Christmas lecture on the workings of the world's oceans and how they serve as the heart of our planetary life support system.