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Maia  Szalavitz

Maia Szalavitz

Award-Winning Neuroscience Author, Journalist & Mental Health Advocate


Maia Szalavitz is the author, most recently, of Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction, which is the first history of the movement aimed at focusing drug policy on minimizing harms, not highs. Read More >

Her previous New York Times bestseller, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction wove together neuroscience and social science with her personal experience of heroin addiction. It won the 2018 media award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

She writes regularly for The New York Times and has written for numerous other publications including TIME, Wired, Elle, The Nation, Vice, The Guardian and Scientific American.

Her 2006 book, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, was the first to expose the damage caused by “tough love” youth treatment and helped spur Congressional hearings.

She has also authored or co-authored five other books, including the classic on child trauma, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, with Dr. Bruce D. Perry. With Dr. Perry, she has also written Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—And Endangered, which laid out why empathy is essential for social trust and how inequality can erode it. With Dr. Joseph Volpicelli, she wrote Recovery Options: The Complete Guide, the first evidence-based guide to addiction treatment. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

America's Anti-Drug Laws Aren't Scientific

Why Addiction is A Learning Disorder & Why It Matters

Speech Topics

Why Addiction is a Learning Disorder & Why It Matters

In this dynamic presentation, Szalavitz explores why understanding addiction as a learning disorder can advance drug policy and end stale arguments about whether compulsive drug use is a crime or a disease. By seeing addiction from a new perspective, we can increase compassion and reduce drug and drug policy related harm. Read More >


  • Addiction is defined by experts as compulsive behavior that continues despite negative consequences. Given this, using negative consequences to try to control it makes no sense.
  • Since addiction persists despite consequences, it’s fundamentally a problem with learning from punishment in this context. Presentation explores what this means for policy across criminal justice system, prevention and treatment system.
  • Our brains have a system to make us persist despite consequences in order to allow us to successfully love and parent. When this gets misdirected towards a drug, it is problematic but the characteristic can be an asset when appropriately directed.

Can also include personal story of addiction and recovery if desired. Read Less ^

Myths About Addiction That Stymy Better Policy & Practices

This presentation explores common myths about addiction and shows why better understanding the condition can radically improve prevention, treatment and policy. Myths vary from misperceptions about the nature of addiction itself to the idea that there is only one way to recover and the notion that people must not be “enabled,” and need to “hit bottom” and experience “tough love” before they can improve. Can also include my personal experience with addiction and how these myths interfered with my own recovery.

How Harm Reduction Saved My Life

Through a warm, moving, emotional narrative, Szalavitz shows how being taught to clean her needles with bleach not only protected her from HIV, but helped her move towards recovery because of her outrage at the failure of society to care for people with addiction. This presentation explains why harm reduction— far from “enabling” or extending addiction— is actually the best way to spur health and recovery.