We may not be responsible for the way the world creates our mind, but we can learn to take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world
Dr. Maté, renowned addiction expert, calls for a compassionate approach toward addiction, whether in ourselves or in others. Gabor believes that the source of addictions is not to be found in genes, but in childhood trauma and in stress and social dislocation endemic to systems of inequality and injustice. In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts, one of his best-selling books, draws on cutting-edge science and real-life stories to show that all addictions originate in trauma and emotional loss.
- The good doctor’s ghosts (Globe and Mail, February 2008)
- Gabor Maté shows we’re wired for addiction (Georgia Straight, February 2008)
- Gabor Maté on Addiction and Love (The Tyee, March 2008)
- Close to Addiction (Canadian Dimension, August 2008)
- Hooked on the story of getting hooked (Toronto Star, January 2009)
- Repealing Federal Strictures Against Federal Needle Exchange Programs: A Much-needed Shot in the Arm (Huffington Post, December 2009)
- The Vancouver method: Treat addicts as people (Crosscut, January 2010)
- In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts Part I. Part II. (Democracy Now!, February 2010)
- Dr. Gabor Maté Brings His War on the War on Drugs to Reed College (Willamette Week, February 2010)
- Ayahuasca and Addiction (Vine of Soul, March 2010)
- Obama Administration Should Heed Global Panel’s Call to End ‘Failed’ U.S.-led Drug War (Democracy Now!, June 2011)
- Jungle medicine for drug addiction, Op-ed by Heather Mallick (Toronto Star, November 2011)
- BC doctor agrees to stop using Amazonian plant to treat addictions (Globe and Mail, November 2011)
- Less Harm, More Compassion (All Treatment, July 2012)
- #14Days: A Cry for Compassion in Treating Addiction (CBS, October 2014)
- Explaining Daddy’s Addiction (Washington Post, October 2014)
- The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think (Huffington Post, January 2015)
- Disconnecting from Digital Addiction (Westender, March 2015)
- Taking in All the Pain of What They Witness (Huffington Post, April 2015)
- The Profound Power of an Amazonian Plant, and the Respect it Demands (Globe and Mail, December 2015)
- Review: Michael Pond and Maureen Palmer explore the depths of addiction in Wasted (Globe and Mail, January 2016)
- Why This Doctor Believes Addictions Start in Childhood (Huffington Post, January 2016)
- Opinion: Health-care system poorly understands our addicts and mentally ill(Vancouver Sun, January 2016)
- First Nations community grappling with suicide crisis: ‘We’re crying out for help’ (The Guardian, April 2016)
- How do we heal trauma suffered by native communities? (Globe and Mail, April 2016)
- Rethinking How We Treat Addiction: An Interview with Dr. Maté (The Reykjavik Grapevine, June 2016)
- The Shocking Truth of What Causes Addiction (Grow Big Always, August 2016)
- Fixing Fentanyl means treating trauma that creates addicts (CBC News, February 2017)
- The Psychological Link Between Trauma And Work Addiction (Thrive Global, November 2017)
- Treating addiction requires both science and compassion. (CBC Books, August 2018)
- Dr. Gabor Maté reflects on the opioid crisis 10 years after In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (CBC Radio, August 2018)
- Don’t ostracize drugs users – empathize with them (The Globe and Mail, August 2018)
- How Dealing With Past Trauma May Be the Key to Breaking Addiction (The Guardian, November 2018)
- Addiction Rooted In Childhood Trauma, Says Prominent Specialist (California Healthline, January 2019)
- Understanding Trauma, Addiction, and the Path to Healing: A Conversation with Gabor Maté (Jenn Brown, on behalf of Multiversity 1440, January 2019)
- Master Mind Master Class with Gabor Maté, CM, BA’68, MD’77 – The Hungry Ghost: A Biopsychosocial Perspective on Addiction, from Heroin to Workaholism (Alumni UBC, February 2019)
- Amid Rising Hostility Towards Drug Users in Vancouver, Gabor Maté Urges Empathy (CBC Vancouver 2020)
- A Philosophical Conversation on Addiction (Freedomain Radio)
- Telling Addiction: To the Best of Our Knowledge (National Public Radio)
- Excerpt from a public talk in L.A. on addiction, mental health, and society (KPFK Radio)
- Gabor Maté on Addiction (The Human Experience Podcast, May 2015)
- The Addicted Mind (The Australian Broadcast Corporation RN Podcast, August 2015)
- Harmageddon (Visir, June 2016)
- Podcast Episode 21: Dr. Gabor Maté (Conversation with Alanis Morissette, December 2018)
- Trauma, Addiction and the Use of Psychedelics. (The Ultimate Health Podcast, 2019)
- The Harvest Podcast with Rose Bergis (Kaplankaya, Turkey, May 2022)
- Public talk at the book launch of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts (St. Andrew’s Wesley Church, March 2008)
- Brain Development and Addiction (Cheam First Nation, February 2009)
- Addiction and Our Compulsive Society: The Agenda with Steve Paikin (TV Ontario, May 2009)
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Reed College, February 2010)
- Addictions and Corrections: Department of Criminology (Simon Fraser University, March 2011). A “dubstep remix” of the same SFU talk, made by a YouTube viewer (May 2011)
- Drug, Set, and Setting (International Drug Policy Reform Conference, November 2011)
- Who Are We When We’re Not Addicted: The Possible Human (YouTube, January 2012)
- The Power of Addiction, and Addiction to Power (TEDx Rio, October 2012)
- The Roots of Addiction (KidCare Canada, June 2013)
- Staying Alive (CBC News Documentary, November 2013)
- What is Addiction? (Omega Point, January 2014)
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Todd Boyle, May 2014)
- Compassionate Inquiry (YouTube, June 2016)
- The War on Drugs Failed by Not Addressing Root Causes of Addiction (Real News Network, May 2017)
- Gabor Maté on the Opioid Crisis (The Real News, August, 2017)
- ‘Drugged’: Capitalism, opioids and the history of heroin (Fox News, September 2017)
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Joe Polish’s Genius Network, November 2017)
- Interview with Tim Ferriss (The Tim Ferriss Show, March 2018)
- Addicted to Ideology? With Gabor Maté (YouTube, November 2018)
- Painkiller: Inside the Opioid Crisis (Telus Documentary, November 2018)
- Damaged Leaders Rule an Addicted World. (Under the Skin podcast, Russell Brand, November 2018)
In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, explores addiction as a symptom of distress, from the pain of individual trauma and family history to the spiritual emptiness pervading our entire society. Dr. Maté weaves brain science, case studies, personal testimony, and social critique into a powerful and kaleidoscopic look at one of our culture’s most perplexing epidemics. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts won the 2010 Hubert Evans Award for Best BC Non-Fiction Book.
Q. Are you saying that everyone who ends up addicted was traumatized or abused in childhood?
A. No, I’m not; I am saying that all addictions come from emotional loss, and exist to soothe the pain resulting from that loss. Trauma and abuse, as we define them, are certainly surefire sources of loss but they’re far from the only ones. The human infant and toddler is a highly vulnerable creature, and emotional stresses of all kinds in the rearing environment can create long-lasting wounds in the psyche that a person will later try to soothe or numb with addictive behaviour. In addition to things that do happen that shouldn’t happen, like abuse, there are things that (developmentally speaking) ought to happen that don’t. For instance, any sustained sense of emotional disconnection with the parenting figure – which can often happen when the parent is excessively stressed or preoccupied over a period of time – has the capacity to have this sort of impact, especially if the child is constitutionally very sensitive. In a stressed society like ours, with fewer and fewer supportive resources for parents, this is more and more common.
So many of us, whether or not we were acutely traumatized or faced extreme adversity as kids, have these sorts of lingering challenges to contend with. We can and should be grateful things weren’t worse, but we shouldn’t discount or minimize the pain we carry from childhood even if it didn’t result from severe neglect or abuse.
Q. Are you saying that your own addiction to shopping for classical music is as bad as someone else’s heroin or cocaine addiction?
A. First of all, I wouldn’t put it in terms of “good” and “bad”, which can have the sort of moral connotations I consider unhelpful in talking about addiction. I do write in the book that my addiction “wears dainty white gloves” compared with the problems my patients are living with. That is, clearly a habit like mine is likely to have far milder consequences for my physical health, relationships, and social status than someone else’s dependence on crack, for instance. I wouldn’t want to trade places with any of the people I’ve treated in the Downtown Eastside – the lives they’ve led have been far harsher and more unkind than mine, and they’ve had far fewer options available to them, by and large.
I do, however, place my addiction on the same continuum as theirs, and that’s important because I firmly believe – and the scientific research supports this – that there’s really only one addiction process. Addictions are separated from each other only by degrees of severity, which are obviously tied to socioeconomic factors and personal history. And any addiction has the capacity to fester and grow into a dynamic that can wreak havoc in someone’s life, to their self-esteem, their relationships, and so on. The fact that some addictions are frowned upon and criminalized in our society (e.g. hard drugs), while others are more or less tolerated (e.g. alcoholism, tobacco smoking), and still others are encouraged or rewarded (e.g. workaholism, the quest for power or wealth) – that’s a rather arbitrary set of standards that has more to do with our culture’s self-delusions than with the truth of addiction per se.
So while the differences between me and my patients are obvious, I’ve chosen to focus on the similarities – the obsessive preoccupation, the negative impacts, the relapses, the rationalizing, the feeling of nagging emptiness at the core of the addict’s experience of life – in order to make this point about the addiction process, to which none of us can claim to be immune.
Q. Are there any “good” addictions?
A. Again, I’d rather not speak in terms of “good” or “bad”, but if by “good” you mean positive, healthy, nourishing, then I’d say that if it’s good, it’s probably a passion and not an addiction. Passions can be very consuming of time and energy, but they also feed your soul, your sense of being alive, your feeling of wholeness as a person. Addictions provide fleeting pleasure or gratification, but never leave you satisfied. And the same activity could be a passion for one person and an addiction for another. One might be a wine enthusiast, enjoying the refined pleasures the drink has to offer, while another person’s “love” for wine masks a fear of his own mind in its sober state.
To take a non-substance example, someone who’s passionate about social activism might work tirelessly for a cause, while her colleague may have a workaholic relationship with the same activity. It all depends on the energy with which one pursues the activity, and what happens when the activity comes to an end. There may be a letdown after a big event, but does the person feel a sense of basic worth in the absence of the adrenaline and the long hours? Does she find comfort in the other parts of her life? Or is she left irritable, restless, and less at ease with the people in her life?
The activity or feeling to which one is addicted may be in itself considered postive or laudable, but the energy of addiction always turns a “good” thing into a harmful one. In the end it’s not about the object of addiction, but about the relationship one has to it.
Q. What about spirituality and addictions? Do I need to believe in a “higher power” to get better?
A. When I speak about spirituality, I don’t mean any particular belief system so much as an awareness that one’s mind and personality, through which one has come to view and process the world, are conditioned and constrained by experience – and that there’s more to who you are than that. Connecting with a “higher power” may just mean connecting with your own sense of being, that awareness that’s more expansive and universal than your habitual stream of thoughts, feelings, memories, and associations that have so far “defined” you as this or that. You don’t have to “believe” anything to make that connection – you may only need to give up the belief that you’re all alone, you know yourself already, there’s no hope, etc.
If spiritual belief discomfits you, then don’t believe; instead, open yourself to the possibility that you could experience yourself and your life in a different, healthier way – that however difficult it’s been so far, “it ain’t necessarily so,” as the song goes. But it’s also very helpful and healing if you can come to understand that you are not alone, that there is something greater within and without to connect with than your usual everyday mind, whether you see that as nature, or compassionate humanity, or a “higher power”.
It’s also worth remembering that even spiritual work can become addictive, particularly if one becomes attached to the religious practices or institutions it’s housed in, or the belief systems associated with them. Anything that the ego can latch onto and say “Aha, now I’ve found the answer!” is likely to feed addictive tendencies, even if the expressed purpose is to move away from those tendencies. Remember the ancient spiritual wisdom that “a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself” – focus on your own journey, your own experience, and not on the particular method or system you’ve chosen to help you on your way.