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Drugs and Behavior
by Fred Leavitt
Publisher:
Sage Publications 
Year:
1995 
ISBN:
0803947844 
Reviewed by JF, 6/24/2001

I’m not an expert on psychopharmacology. Actually, that’s a bit generous—I’ve never even taken a class in psychology. I’ll therefore leave authoritative criticism of the new third edition of Fred Leavitt’s text Drugs and Behavior to those qualified to provide it.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I can safely say that I liked this text very much and would recommend it to anyone looking for a textbook in psychopharmacology that does not shy away from a balanced, substantive coverage of controversial topics such as entheogens and non-medical drug use in general. Leavitt devotes an entire chapter to “The Question of Legalization,” indicative of an overall approach that recognizes drug laws as an important issue in psychopharmacology rather than petty politics best consigned to bland and apologetic appendices. He also devotes a frustrating chapter to the effect of drugs, primarily entheogens, on creativity, in which he reviews many inconclusive and methodologically flawed studies and explains why meaningful results are so hard to obtain in this field of research.

Drugs and Behavior approaches psychopharmacology from a sociological perspective more than a biochemical one. He organizes his chapters around the behavioral effects of drugs (on memory, sexuality, etc.) rather than by chemical similarity—as we might expect from the title. Also indicative of this approach is Leavitt’s treatment of drug use as a social phenomenon (and drug abuse as a social problem). This is especially evident in the chapter on “User and Abusers of Drugs,” in which he rejects abuse paradigms based on arbitrary legal classification in favor of one based on “consequences [of drug use] such as physical complaints and impaired work habits and family relationships.” Drugs and Behavior could be criticized for neglecting the chemical and biochemical aspects of psychopharmacology, but such coverage is not really appropriate to the focus of Leavitt’s text and is available elsewhere (Julien’s A Primer of Drug Action, for example, is a basic text with a more chemical approach).

Good pedagogy is shamefully lacking in many textbooks; Drugs and Behavior is a delightful exception. Leavitt’s writing is straightforward, clear, and engaging throughout, and specific examples abound. The author’s approach to controversy is moderate and evenhanded—a rare virtue. To reinforce the material covered, each chapter is preceded by a list of questions to be answered and followed by a brief summary and a simple self-test. The result is a textbook that is enjoyable and rewarding to read.

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