China crushes the supply of online gaming ‘opium’ while Australia hands it out in schools

By | Addiction, Mental Illness | No Comments

China has just cut access to online gaming to a maximum of three hours a week. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, games are highly addictive ‘spiritual opium’ with devastating consequences for the mental health of an entire generation. Meanwhile Australian schools and universities are opening the equivalent of injecting rooms in their classrooms.

There is no doubt that gaming is addictive. The dopamine spikes created by the simulated danger in online games, cause addiction. Those dopamine ‘hits’ are just as addictive as the ones generated by chemical stimulants like opioids. And the consequences of that addiction are no less dire, with anxiety, depression, self-harm and even suicide featuring prominently on a very long list. The science is so clear that in mid 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) added gaming addiction to the list of diagnosable mental health conditions.

Shortly after the WHO declaration the China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC) said more than 30 per cent of Chinese children were suffering from the disorder. Within a year the Chinese government implemented severe restrictions on gaming. Children were only permitted 90 minutes of gaming per day plus three hours on holidays.  It didn’t work. The CINIC now estimates that gaming addiction among children in China is rampant, with around 60% of children affected.

The latest move tightens the screws further. Now under 18s in China cannot play online games at all from Monday to Thursday and are allowed to play only between 8pm and 9pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. Another new requirement is that every player has to be registered with a real name and the games must provide links to online anti-addiction services. Face recognition software is also being deployed into games to ensure compliance.

Data from CINIC showed China’s gaming industry produced revenue of US$43 billion in 2020, up 21 percent from the previous year.  An article published by the Chinese state owned newsagency said “No industry, no sport, can be allowed to develop in a way that will destroy a generation.” According to Tong Lihua, director of the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center, the latest move is a response to the unchecked profit-seeking nature of a gaming industry that depends on the addiction of children.

China knows a thing or two about being the victim of addiction profiteering. In the late 18th century, the British East India Company solved a wee cash flow problem by shipping tonnes of Indian grown opium into southern China, where the habit of consuming it was taken up with gusto. By 1836, up to twelve million Chinese were opium addicts. When the Chinese government banned its use and destroyed the stockpiles of British merchants in 1839, the British Navy used their overwhelming military might to force the Chinese to become good customers of the British opium trade once again.

It wasn’t until Mao brutally eliminated the trade in the 1950s that China got its opium addiction under control. He knew that the primary cost of addiction was time. Time spent feeding the addiction was time not spent producing. It was a productivity cost that post-war China could not afford. Mao put ten million addicts in compulsory treatment, executed the dealers and ploughed over opium farms.

Today in Australia, we are now ploughing the over the ‘spiritual opium’ farms that are online gaming. We are fertilizing them.  Our high schools and universities are signing up to eSports leagues. To participate, a school establishes “teams” of competitive gamers who “train” for hours each week after school and compete in the online leagues. The players pay a nominal fee to be part of the season, just like a real sport but about a third of the cost.

The games are free to play and can be played all the time regardless of being in a “team”, so I suspect most of the players get in a lot more “training” than the hour or two they do at school. And probably use the need to “train” as an excuse for access to their devices at home.

The schools do it because it seems like sport, but is much cheaper to run, keeps the kids busy and there are great prizes for the schools and the students on offer. But they might as well be opening lunchtime pubs in their canteens. Addicting their students to gaming is no better than addicting them to booze and it certainly isn’t sport.

According to Roy Morgan data from December 2020, 5.5 million Aussies played video games in the past three months. And if there is one thing gamers like doing almost as much as playing, it’s watching people who are better than them play.  The audiences for eSports eclipse the audiences for real sports by extraordinary margins.  And where there is an eager audience, there’s money to be made.

PwC’s latest Australian Entertainment and Media Outlook says that total interactive gaming and esports revenues rose by 7.2% in 2020 to $3.41 billion in Australia, a number expected to grow by at least a quarter of a billion dollars a year through to 2025.  This is why, AFL clubs, with a capped local audience for their core game and desperate desire for growth, have driven the adoption of eSports in schools in the last five years.

There is a lot of money to be made from getting and keeping Australian kids addicted to gaming.  And the best bit, from the industry’s point of view is the collateral damage, the mental health tidal wave that follows the wave of addiction, is not their problem. New gamers are born every minute and schools are willing accomplices in feeding the production line.

These games are the very best, the most addictive, the most evolved, the gaming industry has to offer. Their purpose is to addict young minds, so that billions can be drained from their bank accounts and billions more can be drained from the accounts of sponsors who want access to the players and their fans. And our schools have signed up as part of the gaming industry sales force.

We don’t tolerate commercialisation of our schools. There are no Macca’s school canteens. There are no school footy teams with brewery sponsors.  So why on earth are we allowing companies whose entire purpose is to addict young minds open up shop in our schools?

eSport is addictive gaming, pure and simple, so don’t let your school fall for the marketing BS designed to turn your kids into a product for sale to the highest bidder.

China is not quite at the point of executing dealers and putting millions of kids into rehab centres, but their recent experience with mass addiction has meant they are quick to recognise the signs of a productivity and mental health catastrophe.  We would be wise not to ignore what they are doing and at the very least stop our schools and universities fanning the flames of the next profit driven addiction pandemic.

 

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

How simple things done well can help reset our brain

By | Addiction, Mental Illness | No Comments

Dopamine is our go-juice. It motivates us to chase reward and to run from danger. Without it, we might notice the bar of chocolate but would be unable to muster the energy to pick it up.  We might see the car running the red light but lack the will to move out of the way.

Luckily, we come fitted out with a perfectly operational dopamine system. Arranging motivation for chasing rewarding things like food or sex or running from danger is not a problem.  If, however, we overstimulate dopamine we can change the way our brain is wired.  If we obtain rewards or encounter stressful situations too frequently our brain adapts by making us less sensitive to both risk and reward. This makes us simultaneously seek bigger rewards – something we call addiction – and overestimate risk – something we call anxiety.

We can overstimulate dopamine using chemicals, like cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, and sugar. Or we can do it using software like porn, social media and dating apps, that run high frequency simulations of rewarding experiences.

Chronic stress such as financial, job, or housing insecurity or health pandemics and lockdowns will achieve the same result.  And we can get there using software that simulates stress, like gambling and games.

Once our brain is rewired by reward or stress, we are at very high risk of developing serious addictions and mental illness, not to mention lacking impulse control and being more prone to violence.  Fortunately, there is a way to reset our brains.

Breaking an Addiction

Obviously the first step is to remove whatever it is that is overstimulating dopamine. For rewarding behaviours and substances, it means admitting we have a problem and consciously stopping. That is not easy. If it were they would not be addictive.

The research tells us that most of us will struggle to get past this hurdle the first time we try. But there is nothing to be lost in stopping again, and again, and again if necessary.  Failing to quit is not a character defect, it is biochemistry and every time we abstain for even a short time, we are making the mountain a little bit easier to climb the next time.

Something that the science says will significantly improve our odds of success is finding other people who are also quitting and meeting them weekly to talk about how we are going. It keeps us and them honest and motivated.  Every day away from addiction makes it much more likely we will break it.

Removing Stress

If the source of the overstimulation is stress, then we must work to reduce stress.  For some sources that is achieved introducing routine.  The less decisions we must make the less uncertainty we encounter and the less we engage the mechanism that creates decision anxiety.

There are many uncertain parts of our life over which we have no control.  We cannot control whether the government puts us in to a lockdown that endangers our job.  We cannot control whether our landlord will delay collection of the rent. But we can control smaller things. If for example you always know what you will have for dinner on Monday night, you have removed whole chains of decisions – when to shop, how to shop, how to pay for it and how to cook – from your life. It is by definition, boring. But routine and boredom is what we are aiming for when we seek to remove uncertainty from our lives.

Using a Dopamine patch

We know that for some people it is easier to break an addiction if something which delivers a lower dopamine hit is administered and then the dose lowered slowly over time.  This is the theory behind nicotine patches.  Deliver the nicotine/dopamine hit without the cigarette and lower the dose over time. That notion of low dose dopamine hits will help to rewire the brain’s addictive and stressed state.

The body sometimes attempts this sort of self-help solution on its own. Pain, hunger and lack of sleep all produce dopamine hits. We see those in real-life, in the form of self-harm, intentional starvation and insomnia. The body will apply those band-aids itself if we don’t get in front of the problem.

We can do this in many other ways which don’t need drugs, pain or exhaustion. We know that anything that requires us to focus delivers a dopamine hit.  So taking up a hobby, or a sport or learning to play an instrument or even meditating will all work as long as you can remain focused and live in the moment while you are doing it.

The key is focus.  To focus, our brain needs to increase dopamine levels. This becomes a ‘nicotine patch’ for bringing us down from the endless chase for hits from addictive behaviours or substance while simultaneously making those same hits from stress and uncertainty more tolerable. Haven’t you always wanted to learn the piano?

 

Photo by Max Nikhil Thimmayya from Pexels

Why COVID is turning us all into addicts

By | Addiction, Mental Illness | No Comments

Pre-covid, one in ten UK adults reported current symptoms of anxiety or depression.  The number was similar in Australia and the US.  By June 2020, the UK number had risen to one in five.  By Christmas in the US 42% of all US adults were reporting the symptoms.  There is no reason to believe Australia’s numbers will be any different when they are eventually published. The stress of covid and the lockdowns associated with it are driving mental illness to levels we have never measured or experienced before.

We also are starting to see similar increases in addiction and violent crime.  A third of households now report drinking daily to cope with anxiety and one in five report buying more alcohol than usual. The number of Australians gambling four or more times a week increased by 40% during 2020.  And according to crime data, assaults increased by 30% and domestic violence increased by 45%.

All of this is united by a single simple explanation that is based on the way our brain adapts to stress. The bad news is that this stress adaptation creates a self-perpetuating cycle that leads inevitably to addiction and mental illness. The good news is that we know this – and can stop it if we act quickly.

I live under a flight path.  Visitors often remark about aircraft noise which I stopped noticing long ago. They live in quiet streets where a jet flying over at a thousand feet would stand out like canine gonads. But I have ‘backgrounded’ it because it happens to me every 10 minutes. That ability to not notice things which are part of our normal environment is an important survival mechanic. We need to be able to do that so that when something unusual happens we do notice it amongst the noise.

We don’t just do this for sounds.  We do it for smell, colour, temperature, and pain to name just a few others. Critically we also do it for danger. If we live in a war zone, a stressful event like nearby gunfire will bother us a lot less than if we live in (say) Adelaide.  In the war zone we would be adapted to the background of frequent gunfire so that we would react only to the noises which put us in real, imminent danger.

This response helps us cope with the ever-present risk so we can still function.  If we responded to constant risk the way we respond to a once in a lifetime mortal threat, we’d be permanently frozen in fear.  Our biochemistry changes the calculation of risk so we can keep moving forward even in the most hair-raising circumstances.

We do the same thing for rewarding behaviour.  If rewards are rare, we keep a close eye out for them, but if we have unlimited access to reward, we get bored.  We need more and more stimulation to manage the same level of desire.  We create a new baseline for ‘normal’ levels of pleasure. Our brains background the good stuff just as efficiently as they do for the bad stuff.  This is not particularly surprising because we use the same biochemistry for both.

The trap is of course that since both pleasure and pain trigger the same biochemical adaptation, they act as gateways to each other.  People experiencing high levels of danger seek extraordinary levels of pleasure.  And people experiencing high levels of pleasure accept significantly greater levels of danger.

But there is a bigger price to pay than merely seeking pleasure and danger. Because our brains have moved the goalposts on what is normal, we will overestimate the potential reward on offer – we call this addiction – and do the same for potential risk – we call this anxiety.

This is why, in times of chronic disease uncertainty, chronic housing insecurity and chronic job insecurity, we are seeing rates of addiction and mental illness skyrocket.

Worse, the adaptation to stress puts our brain in a state of impaired impulse control.  We are more irritable, less able to make rational decisions and generally angrier and more impulsive. We might feel like punching the driver that just cut us off at the best of times, but when we are in this state we are much more likely to act on it. There is little wonder then that is exactly what we are seeing play out because of the stress associated with COVID and the government responses to it.

All hope is not lost, however. We can reset the brain wiring that holds us in a state of anxiety, addiction, and dangerous lack of self-control.   It is not easy, but it is possible to reset our tolerance levels for danger and reward and return us to non-addicted, non-anxious equilibrium.  Exactly how that is done is the subject of part two of this series.

 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

7 Paths to Mental Illness

By | Books, Mental Illness | No Comments

Stimulant drugs like opioids, cocaine, meth and alcohol are devastatingly effective pathways to addiction, but there are much more subtle everyday routes to the same destination, and they all start with overstimulation of dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurochemical that motivates us to take action and focuses our attention.  It makes us run towards pleasure and away from danger.  If, however we overstimulate dopamine our brain becomes semi-permanently rewired into a significantly more fragile state. In that state we overestimate both the probability of receiving rewards and the danger posed by threats.

The rewiring for extreme alertness helps us cope with the high dopamine environment, but it is only meant to be a temporary fix. When we hold ourselves in that overstimulated state for too long we will initially become clinically anxious and then, eventually, depressed.

We can do that by using chemicals that we know stimulate dopamine but many more of us are achieving the same result without consuming any of these.

Social media and dating apps stimulate oxytocin, our socialisation hormone which in turn gives us a hit of dopamine.  Porn follows a similar path with the assistance of testosterone. Gambling and danger simulating games like Fortnite get to the same destination by stimulating cortisol, the same hormone released when we are in real-life danger.  Chronic uncertainty caused by housing insecurity, job insecurity or, say, COVID has the same effect.  As does exposure to trauma, pain or violence.

All these starting points promote overstimulation of dopamine. Because both stress and addiction produce the same state, stress makes us easier to addict and addiction makes us more susceptible to stress. Our brain adapts by decreasing our sensitivity to dopamine by dialling up an epigenetic control called DelatFosB.  Unfortunately, that leaves our brain in a fragile state which makes us overestimate rewards (craving more dopamine) and risks (high anxiety about everything).  Even worse, any dopamine stimulating behaviour will temporarily provide relief but ultimately make the problem worse.  This is why addiction is so hard to break and anxiety is so hard to cure.

In between dopamine hits, the edgy state of our brain biochemistry leads us into low dopamine states we recognise as depression (a lack of motivation) and ADHD (a lack of focus).

It doesn’t matter (to our biochemistry) if the next dopamine hit comes from looking at Facebook, or playing Fortnite, or smoking a ciggy, or inhaling cocaine, or hitting the booze, or being evicted, or stress about COVID, or being a victim of violence, and of course any combination of these.

The affect is the same, the effects are cumulative and left unchecked, over time, will continue to drive the growing epidemic of anxiety, depression, and mental illness.

Excerpt from Brain Reset

By | Books, Mental Illness | No Comments

Order Now

Introduction

If I were to call you an addict, I doubt you’d take it as a compliment. Addicts are nasty people. They steal, they cheat and lay unconscious in the gutter, oblivious to the world around them. Am I right? Yet, in the sense I will use that word in this book, you probably are an addict.

You probably wouldn’t be too keen on me describing you as having a mental illness either. But according to the latest statistics, if you are standing in a room with four other Australians, one of you currently has a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, and two and half of you will, at some point in your life. It is even worse for younger people. More than one in four people aged 16–24 currently suffer a mental disorder. Between 2005 and 2019, depression in the US in people under 25, the age group most easily addicted, increased by 73 per cent. One in eight US teens is depressed and twice that many suffer from anxiety. The Australian statistics are similar. Those numbers tell us that every family is in some way dealing with mental illness.

This is a book about how addiction, anxiety and depression are all part of the same spectrum. It is a book about mental health but it is not an attempt to explore the vast universe of mental illness; just a very important part of the equation. It is a detailed look at the way seesawing dopamine, caused by stress, uncertainty and addictive behaviours (smoking, drinking, gambling, screen use, eating sugar and many more) create imbalances in our brains. This in turn causes anxiety and depression. This matters a lot because it is rapidly creating an epidemic of mental illness the likes of which we have never before experienced. If we do not stop it, it will have disastrous consequences for each of us and our communities.

This is not to say that addiction or stress causes all mental illness. Like all human disease states, there is an underlying level. The power of sexual reproduction continuously recombining our DNA is that every one of us has a different propensity to any given disease to the person next to us. Some people can drink 50 cans of Coke a day and live to 127. Some people put on 400 kg merely by reading the word ‘Coke’ in the preceding sentence. We are all different. What we can say with confidence is certain factors take disease states from background noise into population-wide epidemics. That’s what sugar consumption did for type 2 diabetes when it went from a non-disease in the 70s to affecting one in ten of us now. And it is what addiction and stress is doing to our mental health.

I am not a doctor. I am a researcher. I write about evidence with the singular motivation of providing you (and me) with information that helps us make better choices about our health. I firmly believe that knowledge gives us the power to change our lives for the better. There are many very large, very rich companies making very good money out of keeping that knowledge from us and keeping us addicted.

Because I have no relevant qualifications, I really have to know my stuff. I am very aware that my lack of formal training in the area means anything I say is open to criticism. This is how it should be, but this important reality forces my research to be more thorough, my references more current and my conclusions more defensible. My outsider’s view allows me to connect silos of knowledge where the evidence says it is necessary. The only relevant skill I bring to the table is knowing nothing about the area. This means I can’t accept a fact until I see the evidence. I can’t operate on the basis of ‘this is what my lecturer told me’ or ‘this is what everyone knows to be true’. Everything you are about to read is referenced. You can read all of it in the original journals. It is all there for everyone to see, but nobody is laying it out for us ordinary people in a way that makes any sense.

I have researched sugar, education, seed oils, psychopathy and teenage addiction and, as disparate as they are, a common theme has consistently emerged. There is always someone who will try to profit from human vulnerability. It could be the private school network pressing parents’ status anxiety button. It could be the processed food industry adding sugar to everything to increase sales. Or it could be Facebook harvesting our need to be liked.

When it comes to your brain there are loads of people fighting for your neural real estate. There is a reason the processed food, alcohol, gambling, social media, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries account for the lion’s share of our business landscape – and they are just the legal addictions. And they don’t stop at addicting individuals either. They make sure our leaders are addicted to their money. Our governments believe they would struggle without the rivers of gold generated from taxing our addictions. For all the nice feel-good campaigns about mental health and addiction, there is a very strong financial undertow pulling all of us in the other direction.

Addiction is not just messy drunks, coke-heads or junkies. The biochemical reality is we can become addicted to many things that are much more subtle and that are so socially acceptable, we’d happily give them to a toddler. In 2009, an advertising campaign kicked off on the side of London buses that said, ‘Nice People Take Drugs’ in large bright red letters. The campaign was paid for by a charity campaigning for the decriminalisation of drugs. It was immediately banned and removed. The UK was not ready to hear that nice people are addicts too, and things have not changed much since then. Denial is one of the first signs of addiction. It is a reflexive defensive mechanism aimed at keeping the addiction alive and hidden from view. That’s worth remembering as we look at the nature of everyday addiction.

Addiction is a loss of self-control when presented with potential rewards. Our brains operate a biochemical reward system to make us get off our bottoms and do stuff that keeps us alive long enough to produce the next generation. Without it, we wouldn’t get out of bed, we wouldn’t eat even if food was put in front of us, we wouldn’t go to the trouble of meeting other people and we certainly wouldn’t bother with getting to know them well enough to have children with them. This same system keeps us safe from danger by providing us with the motivation to run away or stand and fight.

That reward system, however, can be broken. We can like things too much for our own good. This can happen if we do rewarding things at very high frequency, or use substances to mess with the biochemistry of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter responsible for messaging in our reward system. For most of the history of addiction, substances have been the only path to addiction. We discovered pretty early on that the alcohol produced by overripe fruit made us feel good. As the centuries passed, we added to the collection of stuff we knew would give us a buzz – tobacco leaves, tea leaves, coffee beans, kola nuts, opium poppies, coca plants and, of course, sugar.

I was addicted to sugar. I didn’t know I was addicted to sugar until I wasn’t. Had you asked me at the time, I would have denied it till the cows came home – and then bought a Coke instead of water because it was more ‘fun’. When I compare the way I felt about food before to the way I feel about it now, I definitely was. Sugar pushes exactly the same biochemical buttons in our reward system as cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and many others. Just because the cravings are less intense and it has stayed under the regulatory radar doesn’t mean the biochemistry is any different or it is not addictive.

When we consume one of these substances, we ratchet up our need for reward. The brain is not evolved to deal with this. It foolishly assumes our environment is largely free from anything that can mess with its biochemistry because until very recently in evolutionary terms, that was true. To make things even more dire, in the last decade, we have invented and deployed powerfully addictive software to every person on the planet. While this software doesn’t administer a substance that breaks our reward system, it manipulates our brains into doing it.

In just a decade, software that simulates the most common real-life rewards, like sex, gambling or the oxytocin-enhancing feeling of being liked, has become ubiquitous. Now addiction is not just for the adventurous few, it can be enjoyed in the bedroom, bathroom, on the bus, at work and school and during parliamentary question time. No one can have sex 100 times a day or meet real people 1000 times a day or place 500 bets a day, but with the high-speed simulations now available on every portable device, our pocket has become a seething cesspit of potential addiction. This is why the generation who have never known life without these devices will not know life without addiction.

In a similar way, our bodies and minds never evolved to be under extreme stress for long periods of time. We are fine with stress while we are running away from a woolly mammoth. We are not designed for the kind of persistent low-level stress created by constantly having $100 in our account when the rent is $500. Unfortunately, our brains save resources by using the reward system to handle chronic stress. This means that stress increases addiction and addiction increases stress and both flow through to anxiety and depression.

Addiction and stress are not the only ways to create anxiety and depression but they are now the dominant pathways for most of us. The good news is that knowing the enemy is the key to stopping it. Once we know exactly how our operating system works and how it can be manipulated, we can use that knowledge to give ourselves the edge.

Part of the reason I didn’t think I was addicted to sugar was that I didn’t think I was eating that much of it. Then I started reading food labels. I found out that just by eating a bowl of Sultana Bran and a glass of orange juice, I had consumed 20 teaspoons of sugar before I pushed back from the breakfast table. That was just the start. BBQ sauce can be half sugar, some yoghurt has more sugar than ice-cream and there is often more sugar in low-fat mayonnaise than Coke. Knowing how much I was eating, and reading the science of exactly how it addicted me to make sure I kept eating, was the key to me stopping. I am hoping this book can do the same for all of us, with the addictions we may not be aware we have.

Addiction is loss of control. It is not being able to say ‘no’ when offered just one chocolate. It is settling down to a quick look at your socials and then wondering what happened to the last three hours. It is having just one more game, then realising the night has disappeared. It’s putting on one more multi-bet because you are sure your luck has changed. We may not feel like rats in a cage being manipulated to press the lever for reward, but that is the subtle art of addiction. If you want to see if you really are exercising free will, just try to stop.

Anxiety and depression are a direct result of dopamine signalling. Too many dopamine hits too often will lead to mental illness as certainly as night follows day. We can get those dopamine hits by becoming addicted to substances or behaviours that deliver them or by living in a state of stress. Both of these processes are significantly accelerated by uncertainty. Uncertainty takes an interesting and rewarding experience and at least doubles the perceived excitement and the size of the consequent dopamine spike. Equally, when bad things may or may not happen, the uncertainty at leastdoubles the dopamine hit, to make sure we are on full alert. It is like a free supersized dopamine hit for no extra effort.

Either way, the reward system turns uncertainty-boosted dopamine hits into a semi-permanent change to the brain biochemistry that helps us cope with our high-dopamine environment. Unfortunately, that coping mechanism comes at a cost – our mental health. Dopamine-adapted brains are anxious and depressed and work much less well than brains that are not in this state. They are irritable, have no impulse control, have weak memory, make poor decisions and are able to contribute much less to our overall welfare. If we allow that mental state to go on indefinitely, we place ourselves and others at mortal risk, either from the addictions or from self-harm, domestic violence or suicide.

The key to undoing the damage done by addiction or stress or, usually, both is to reset the biochemical switch, ΔFosB (DeltaFosB). This controls how we react to a surge in dopamine generated by reward or danger and amplified by uncertainty. It would be really nice if we could just access the neurochemical program that runs our brains and flick the switch to reset DeltaFosB to normal. While that is possible, it is nowhere near that easy or quick. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch in biochemistry. Resetting the switch flicked by years of addiction or stress takes a bit of effort. To do that, we need to delete addictive behaviours and substances, replace them with rewarding real-life experiences that are not addictive. We also need to remove as much stress and uncertainty from our lives as possible.

Once we know how our reward system works and how it is manipulated, we can regain control. We can push the profiteers out of the driver’s seat and own our destiny once more.

This is not a book about stopping pleasure. You will not be told all fun must end. Our reward system works perfectly well when it isn’t being messed with. We can enjoy life and do things that provide us with shots of dopamine without the risk of addiction, anxiety or depression. The catch is we need to do a system reset before we get to that point. This is a book about how to do that. I will guide you through what the science says about how to reduce and remove the substances and behaviours that drive addiction and how to increase the behaviours that recalibrate our reward system. The pay-off will inevitably be reductions in levels of anxiety and depression or avoiding them altogether.

You don’t need to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression to find value in these pages. A common pathway to diagnosable mental illness starts with insomnia, feeling low, feeling trapped, feeling like we are not living the life we want to lead (and can’t work out why) or worrying about things that never used to bother us. For many of us, our reward system has been broken for so long that we have no idea what life can look like on the other side. I didn’t know I was apathetic, moody and low on energy until I wasn’t on sugar. Life without addiction can take us to a new level. Suddenly, we can concentrate better, think through complex situations, set and reach goals and get more enjoyment out of life in general. Our moods will be less volatile, we’ll be more motivated, sleep better, lose weight and have better health overall.

There are also dramatic benefits for the higher functioning addict, one who feasts on a smorgasbord of smaller addictions but isn’t incapacitated by any single one. They will experience high of contentment, less reactivity, better focus on work and more connection with family and friends.

And it is not just you who will benefit. As a society, we are neck-deep in addiction for profit. Governments are as addicted to revenue from the addiction industries as we are to straight bourbon and unfiltered Camel cigarettes. If governments divest themselves and genuinely try to help, we will all benefit from living in a society where there is less violence, less addiction-driven death and less preventable disease. Our businesses will be more productive because of the massive reduction in mental health costs and our families will more robustly handle any stressors they encounter. The local leagues club will be a lot smaller but, then again, it won’t need to house so many pokies. And there won’t be as much money for pork-barrelling the local pollie into power, but there will be a lot more money for community services left over from our taxes because society will be relieved of the costs of addiction.

This is a book about mental health. It is about what we can do to decrease our levels of anxiety and depression and the many disease states that can cascade from them. It is a book about real science and practical outcomes. It is not a book about being nice to yourself or talking yourself out of depression or herbal gerbil knit your own pseudo-scientific counselling techniques. It is a book about neuroscience and hard, knowable, measurable outcomes.

What we know about how our brains work has advanced significantly in the last decade but so far very little of that knowledge has made it past the cover of a medical journal. Our society is struggling to contain a tidal wave of mental illness and addiction that disables families and dismantles communities. Worse, turning our teens and young adults into addicts robs them and our society of a future. Once the young have no vision beyond the next dopamine hit, human civilisation is in real peril. This is not hyperbole. There needs to be an honest desire to fix this. There needs to be an uncomfortable accounting for the true costs of generations burned at the altar of addiction for profit.

This is a book about what the evidence really says so that you can apply it, if you wish, in your own life. This book will not eradicate all mental illness alone, but if we listen to the science, we can remove the static and clear the white noise driven by corporate profiteering so resources can be freed to help those whose illness would exist even in a world free of addiction.

This book takes a good hard look at the science behind resetting our reward and punishment pathway and what that science implies about how we should behave. But it isn’t all science. At the end, you will find an actionable plan to help you to reduce your addictive behaviour and set you on a path towards understanding your mental health.

The solution is in your hands.

Order Now