In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Winner of the 2009 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
From street-dwelling drug addicts to high-functioning workaholics, the continuum of addiction cuts a wide and painful swath through our culture.
Blending first-person accounts, riveting case studies, cutting-edge research and passionate argument, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (available for order in Canadian and U.S. editions, as well as an acclaimed audiobook version) takes a panoramic yet highly intimate look at this widespread and perplexing human ailment.
Countering prevailing notions of addiction as either a genetic disease or an individual moral failure, Dr. Gabor Maté presents an eloquent case that addiction – all addiction – is in fact a case of human development gone askew.
Dr. Maté, who for twelve years practiced medicine in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside – North America’s most concentrated area of drug use, begins by telling the stories of his patients, who, in their destitution and uniformly tragic histories, represent one extreme of the addictive spectrum. With his trademark compassion and unflinching narrative eye, he brings to life their ill-fated and mostly misunderstood struggle for relief or escape, through substance use, from the pain that has tormented them since childhood. He also shows how the behavioural addictions of society’s more fortunate members – including himself – differ only in degree of severity from the drug habits of his Downtown Eastside patients, and how in reality there is only one addiction process, its core objective being the self-soothing of deep-seated fears and discomforts.
Turning to the neurobiological roots of addiction, Dr. Maté presents an astonishing array of scientific evidence showing conclusively that:
- addictive tendencies arise in the parts of our brains governing some of our most basic and life-sustaining needs and functions: incentive and motivation, physical and emotional pain relief, the regulation of stress, and the capacity to feel and receive love;
- these brain circuits develop, or don’t develop, largely under the influence of the nurturing environment in early life, and that therefore addiction represents a failure of these crucial systems to mature in the way nature intended; and
- the human brain continues to develop new circuitry throughout the lifespan, including well into adulthood, giving new hope for people mired in addictive patterns. Dr. Maté then examines the current mainstream.
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Read from In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts
The following chapters are available to read online: