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.