Craving for Ecstasy and Natural Highs

Craving for Ecstasy and Natural Highs A Positive Approach to Mood Alteration

Companion Website

© 2009 | 496 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

"This book is extremely useful for a broad range of readers. This book reflects the extensive scientific and clinical expertise of the authors and is compelling reading for anyone interested in addictive behaviors. It is one of the rare books that from page one immediately engrosses, educates and broadens your perspective."
Alex Blaszczynski, The University of Sydney, International Journal of Mental Health Addiction

"Psychologist Harvey Milkman and chemist Stanley Sunderwirth explore why our relentless search for pleasure sometimes leads to dangerous addictions and show us healthy ways to achieve happiness."

"Harvey B. Milkman and Stanley Sunderwirth have written a tour de force. Craving for Ecstasy and Natural Highs: A Positive Approach to Mood Alteration . . . is a beautifully written and organized book . . . a thrill ride through the most innovative and insightful perspectives that science and clinical experience have to offer . . . hip and artistic, reflecting a deep understanding of addiction . . . a major contribution to the field; it is must reading." 
—Howard J. Shaffer, PhD, CAS Editor, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School Director, Division on Addictions, Cambridge Health Alliance

"Reading this book is in itself and ecstatic experience! . . . a fascinating journey that explores the benefits and risks of pleasure and the universal desire to feel good . . . It's quite a trip."             
—G. Alan Marlatt, PhD, University of Washington

People from all walks of life often lose themselves in pursuing counterfeit pleasures—cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, thrill seeking, sex, food, gambling, and on-line fantasies to name just a few. How does the pursuit of pleasure result in compulsion and loss of control? Craving for Ecstasy and Natural Highs addresses this fundamental question and then explores positive ways to achieve lasting happiness and fulfillment. Readers will gain important insight on how to improve their own quality of life and will learn how to offer support to clients, students, family, and friends whose lives may be compromised by addiction.

Students of addictive behaviors and anyone interested in discovering healthy means to satisfy the drive to alter consciousness will find this book compelling. 

View Harvey Milkman's appearance on local Denver TV where he talks about addiction and his book at

Be sure to follow Harvey Milkman's blog on Psychology Today at

Reviews of previous work:

"The chemistry and psychology of addiction are described with considerable insight. . . . These authors know their stuff and make a compelling case." 
—The Los Angeles Times

"The authors provide a valuable service by placing into perspective a large array of behaviors that could be considered addictive." 

SAGE offers treatment and training programs for mental health providers that you can easily incorporate into your existing programs. Visit to learn more about these treatment and training programs.
Addiction Syndrome Disorders  
Extent of the Problem  
Positive Psychology and Natural Highs  
Ch 1. Addiction to Experience
The Broad Scope of Addiction  
Behavioral Addictions  
The Addictive Personality  
Who Is Most at Risk?  
Acquisition and Maintenance of Reward-Dependent Behavior  
Drugs and Activities of Choice  
Beacons of Compulsion  
Behavioral Excess and the Brain  
Mismanaging the Brain  
Society and the Deviant Career  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 2. Pleasure and the Brain
Neurochemistry 101  
The Joy of Dopamine and the Reward Cascade  
Genes and Drug Abuse - Choose Your Parents Carefully  
Drugs to Fight Drugs  
Chapter Summary  
Overview: Seeking Safety and Comfort  
The Chemistry of Calm  
Ch 3. Hey, What's in This Stuff, Anyway?
Inheriting Alcoholism  
The Addictive Quality of Alcohol  
Neurotransmitter Regulation and Dysfunction  
Harmful Effects on the Mind, Body, and Brain  
Sobriety and the Brain: What if I Quit?  
Coping With Cravings and Urges  
Redeeming Alcohol: The Benefits of Booze  
Hold the Press, What About Cancer?  
To Quit or Not to Quit?  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 4. The Great Psychiatric Tavern
Who Shows Up and What Do They Do?  
Surrogate Family Atmosphere  
The "Regulars"  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 5. Self-Medication
Nicotine: The World's Antidepressant  
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Among Women  
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Self-Medication  
Patients in the Street  
Prescription Drug Abuse  
Inhalants: How Stupid Can You Get?  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 6. Eating for a Change
Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating  
Eating and the Brain  
Why Chocolate?  
Obesity Around the Globe  
Obesity in America  
Overeating and Psychoanalysis  
Biology Versus Psychology  
Chapter Summary  
Overview: What a Rush!  
Ch 7. Stress Hormone Highs
Wake Me Up! Caffeine Buzz  
Stress Intoxication  
Addiction: The Curse of Ecstasy  
The Up and Down Game  
Problem and Pathological Gambling  
Shop 'Till You Drop  
Autoerotic Fatalities  
Am I a Speed Demon?  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 8. Rock Around the Clock: Methamphetamine, Cocaine, and the Club Scene
Methamphetamine - A Dopamine Blast  
Methamphetamine and the Brain  
Cocaine: Gift of the Gods  
Cocaine and the Brain  
Compulsion to Use  
The Club Scene  
Club Drugs  
Chapter Summary  
Overview: Imagination - The Quintessential Human Trait  
Electronic Media Everywhere  
The Child's Use of Fantasy  
Religion and Myth  
Science and Religion  
Personal Fantasy  
Overview Summary  
Ch 9. Virtual Reality and Electronic Bogeymen
Introduction: The Evolution of Electronic Media  
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games  
Online Game Addiction  
Is the Internet Good or Bad?  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 10. Fantasy and the Drug Experience
Introduction: The "Trip" Begins  
Hallucinogens and the Brain  
Dissociative Drugs  
Can Hallucinogens Heal?  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 11. Compelled by Fantasy
Shared Delusions  
Facilitator-Assisted Fantasy  
Schizophrenic Fantasy  
The Terrorist Mind-Set  
Armageddon: The Ultimate Fantasy  
Terror Management  
Chapter Summary  
Overview: The importance of Human Connections  
Ch 12. Love or Addiction
Infatuation and the Legend of St. Valentine  
Neurochemistry of Romance  
Love and Death  
MDMA: Synthetic Love  
Should I Try Ecstasy?  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 13. Marijuana--Reefer Madness Revisited
'Benefits' of Pot: Why Do So Many People Smoke?  
Effects on the Brain  
Effects on Cognition  
Serious Mental Disorder  
Marijuana and the Endocrine System  
Marijuana and the Immune System  
Long-Term Effects on Health  
Medical Marijuana  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 14. Romantic Sex Fantasy
Who Attends and Why  
'Intimacy' at the Gentlemen's Club  
The Allure of Prostitution  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 15. The Voyage of Hardship and Suffering
Introduction: The Disease Concept of Addiction  
Addiction and the Adolescent Brain  
The Downward Spiral of Addiction  
Capsules for Transport: Licit and Illicit Drugs  
Behavioral Addictions  
The Passenger Sleeps  
Symbols of Change  
The Robot Pilot  
The Mutiny  
A Guard Must be Posted  
Improving the Odds  
Chapter Summary  
Overview: The Era of Self-Regulation and Natural Highs  
Ch 16. The Cognitive-Behavioral Revolution: How to Manage Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
Introduction: Evolution of the Cognitive-Behavioral Model  
Contemporary Cognitive Therapy  
Behaviorist Contributions  
Combining Cognitive and Behavioral Theories  
Working With Automatic Thoughts and Core Beliefs  
The Trans-Ideological Power of Cognitive-Behavioral Restructuring  
Cognitive-Behavioral Restructuring in Everyday Life  
Chaper Summary  
Ch 17. Maintaining Close and Intimate Relationships
Introduction: The Three Faces of Love  
The Universal Need for Love  
Secure Attachment: A Prototype for Successful Relationships  
Healthy Love  
Intimacy and Sexuality  
Intimacy Versus Individuality  
Optimizing Relationships  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 18. Relaxation, Mindfulness, and Meditation
Introduction: Meditation Comes of Age  
Process Meditation  
Does Meditation Work?  
Meditation and Hedonic Dependencies  
A Word of Caution  
Science-Based Relaxation Techniques  
Managing Stress in the Here and Now  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 19: Eating Yourself Fit
Introduction: Does Dieting Work?  
The Natural Highs Alternative: Think Thin, Moderate, Workout!  
Developing the Right State of Mind  
Partial Fasting  
What Is a Healthy Diet?  
The Bottom Line  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 20. Exercise: The Magic Bullet
Exercise of Choice  
The Chemistry of Working Out  
Exercise for Body Trimming  
Training for Physical Health  
Running Away From Depression  
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind  
Runner's High: Fact or Fiction?  
Make Life a Moving Experience  
Chapter Summary  
Ch 21. Meaningful Engagement of Talents
Introduction: Capitalizing on Abilities and Strengths  
Integrating Models for Self-Discovery and Change  
Self-Discovery in Everyday Life  
The Personal Pleasure Inventory  
Chaper Summary  
Appendix I: The Personal Pleasure Inventory
Appendix II: Classroom Discussion Guides

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 3 - Hey, what’s in this stuff anyway?

Chapter 5 - Self-medication


Instructor Resources Site
Instructor Resources Site have PowerPoints and a Test Bank for every chapter.

"This book is extremely useful for a broad range of readers. This book reflects the extensive scientific and clinical expertise of the authors and is compelling reading for anyone interested in addictive behaviors. It is one of the rare books that from page one immediately engrosses, educates and broadens your perspective."

Alex Blaszczynski
The University of Sydney

Will place order to keep multiple copies in our university library.

Dr Timothy Ritchie
Department of Psychology, University of Limerick
July 20, 2012

book content was excellent, however, format did not align with the objectives and structure of this course

Dr John Finneran
Professional Studies Division, Keene State College
March 11, 2012

An interesting broad-spectrum book covering how we all crave pleasure and the ways we go about achieving this. Will broaden the student experience and challenge pre-conceptions.

Mrs Rachel Harrison
Interprofessional Studies, Winchester University
October 27, 2010

This book is a very good fit for the broad spectrum of addiction studies. It is both comprehensive and comprehensible.

Professor Marc Henley
Public Svc Soc Sci Dept, Delaware County Community College
December 11, 2009
Key features
  • Addiction as a syndrome
  • Interdisciplinary approach
  • Examination of four broad factors of hedonic dependencies: arousal, relaxation, fantasy and intimacy
  • Classroom discussions guides
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Artistic illustrations

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ISBN: 9781412956734