According to a new study, involving ourselves in intellectually stimulating environments help rewire our internal reward system (which is mostly the function responsible for addiction), and stave off future addiction. According to the Economic Times, the study was published in the journal of Neuropharmacology. Researchers found research mice who were given cocaine and then enriching cognitive training programs were less likely to go back to the room associated with cocaine. When other mice were not given the same stimulation, they readily sought out cocaine, presumably to fill the void the other mice fulfilled with engagement in other activities.
Although addiction does not discriminate, those who live in poverty are more likely to spiral down into the depths of the chronic disease. The Economic Times quotes Linda Wilbrecht, the senior researcher of the study,
“Our data are exciting because they suggest that positive learning experiences, through education or play in a structured environment, could sculpt and develop brain circuits to build a resilience in at-risk individuals, and that even brief cognitive interventions may be somewhat protective and last a relatively long time,”
So what does this mean for addicted humans? The planes of potential are absurdly endless! By engaging in stimulating activities, addiction is abated- which is one of the core reasons it’s essential to become involved in your passions to help spur recovery. But if you’re like me, you may be at a loss for what counts as “stimulating.” How are you supposed to know if the level of stimulation is enough, or having the desired effect?
As a rule of thumb I say if you’re learning something or being exposed to new ideas or developing new or pre-existing skills, it counts! But he’s a sure fire way to take advantage of this study, and its blissfully simple: pick up a book.
This Is Your Brain on Literature
Literary fiction is marked by its contribution to societal commentary, complexity, depth, and in large by poignant (or jovial) comments on the human condition. The use of language in literary fiction is more evocative, lush, and brimmed with stylistic excellence- making it potentially difficult for those who are not keen readers to keep a handle on. But like with any skill, and a good dictionary, practice makes perfect. Shakespeare is not the most read writer around the globe because people can’t understand him. If you think you can’t read Shakespeare, think again! Understanding the Bard is easier than you think with a good reference guide (like Shakespeare’s Words or the entire No Fear Shakespeare collection, which has simplified text next to the original) for archaic, or old, words you’re unfamiliar with.
And we’re not asking you to read Shakespeare- although that can only help!
Engrossing yourself into literary fiction in turn enlivens your brain, stimulating the sensory centers when exposed to imagery appealing to the senses. This type of stimulation may help recovering addicts immerse themselves into the worlds between the folds of text- allowing escape from the realities which may have been the catalyst for drug abuse. Dull language which we are continually bombarded with everyday, and tired metaphors, do not elicit the same response from the brain- making fiction perhaps entertaining, but lacking the verve and oomph marked by literary fiction. Everyone should start somewhere! If you begin your reading ventures in fiction, that’s a great start.
And here’s what not to do:
Don’t get caught up in identifying whether a book or novel is considered “literary fiction” becoming active in reading and flexing your reading and comprehension muscles are important, and they will be stimulated with regardless of what you’re reading. Eventually you will naturally progress to literary fiction as you become familiar with the elegance of the written word. So relax, have fun, and read! Even if it’s Green Eggs and Ham. Magazines are a great source of material too, and they have every specialty magazine under the sun from baseball to film, writing poetry, cats, and everything in between.
Re-Learning Social Skills with Literature
Beware of Literature About Drug Use and Drinking
Because we have a measurable response in the brain from exposing ourselves to gripping literature, reading fiction, memoirs, or nonfiction accounts of drug addiction or alcoholism will resonate with recovering addicts heavily- and may induce relapse. It may be a better idea to stay away from these books early in recovery, or only read them in a reading group- which you can start yourself!
On the other hand, reading recovery accounts may give you a sense of hope and rejuvenation. It’s imperative to do what works for you, and to not endanger your recovery. As such, always speak with your therapist about how you’re feeling. If you are so inclined, mull over the idea about reading tales of addiction and recovery with them first.
What You Can Do Right Now: Recommended Reading List
Even if you’re unsure what constitutes as literary fiction, any book you pick up is a great start! As we mentioned earlier, as you develop your reading abilities you will naturally transition to literary fiction. Below is a list of some of my favorite novels, most count as literary fiction, and others are just a good read to get you started!
Remember, literary fiction doesn’t necessarily mean a text is difficult to read or understand, it simply means the work makes a meaningful comment on the difficulties and triumphs we face in our everyday lives, socially, politically, or morally. The key to literary fiction is that the author is making a pointed comment about the human condition- which may not be obvious until the end of the work and further literary analysis.
1. The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
If you want a gripping introduction to Dostoevsky read an excerpt of The Grand Inquisitor, which is a chapter of the novel.
2.The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. The Portrait of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
5. A Company of Liars by Karen Maitland (Good for beginners!)
6. A Testament of Hope the writings of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.
7. The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
Don’t forget to check out short story anthologies to get a taste of different authors, like:
8. The Art of the Short Story edited by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn
Tip: Take advantage of expired copyrights! Many classic works are available to read freely on the internet in form of PDFs or are available for free download on the iPad and Kindle.
What are some of your favorite books?