In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, Winner of the 2009 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize

Hungry Ghosts

(U.S. Title: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction):

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Purchase The Book On-line

Read from In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts

The following chapters are available to read online:

Listen to an excerpt from In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts

From the award-winning audiobook, narrated by Daniel Maté, published by Post Hypnotic Press:


"Gabor Maté’s connections – between the intensely personal and the global, the spiritual and the medical, the psychological and the political – are bold, wise and deeply moral. He is a healer to be cherished and this exciting book arrives at just the right time."

Naomi Klein

Author, The Shock Doctrine

"I am an addict who dragged himself out of the Downtown East Side and want to thank you for you dedication and great work. I love listening to your lectures and agree and have always known that what you say about the dynamics of our personalities and environments forming who we become is true. Once again, thank you."


"Gabor Maté is a common-sense doctor and a truth-teller. By looking at causes and their effects, he helps you find your way home."

Jamie Lee Curtis

Author, Actress, Activist, Alcoholic

"Two years ago I read your book "In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts" and it has changed our lives - literally. Our son has been an addict for many years, on methadone and eventually ended up in prison at Matsqui. He was released in August 2011 when he moved back home and has turned his life around. There were many things that contributed to this and a lot came from your book, but thinking of him as an addict and not a criminal was the key that opened the door for our family. We gave him a safe landing from jail, loved him, set limits and forgave him. He worked renovating our home as "payback" for all the grief he caused us and now has a job that he is working at (piecework - brutal) until the mill or mine decide to give him a chance. No one thought he would ever get off crack. He was a hardcore IV user, was in many treatment programs surrounded by drugs but he did it. Thank you so much for caring. Addicts are people too. "


"Maté’s resonant, unflinching analysis of addiction today
shatters the assumptions underlying our War on Drugs."

Norm Stamper

Retired Former Police Chief of Seattle Member, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

"It's my 3rd year teaching an addictions course in a 2 year social service diploma course. 'Hungry Ghosts' is the required reading for the class. Every year, students comment that they wish all required texts were this engaging, interesting and powerful. My copy of Hungry Ghosts was a gift for me from my husband on the first day of my journey into recovery from addiction. Thank-you doesn't come close."


"Gabor Maté is a voice of reason and compassion in a sea of white noise. In the realm of the hungry ghost, where so many others see only the comeuppance of lives of sloth and foolishness, he sees the human spirit battered by the crush of indifference."

Ed Burns

Former Baltimore City Homicide detective and co-creator, HBO’s The Corner and The Wire

"Thank you, Dr Maté, for this book. I'm half way through it, and it will change my life."


"I have just read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and feel compelled to write. I would like to thank you for crafting such an enlightening work; for putting addiction in a light in which I had never before considered it. The dignity with which you treat people with addiction, in your practice and written word made me reevaluate the way in which I have considered and treated addicts in my own life. I have been moved by your example and feel that an important step forward for me will be to infuse interactions with my brother; any/ all addicts whom I should encounter with respect and compassion. I only wish that the powers at be in this country were able to see the big picture that you so astutely outline; were more interested in implementing the sorts of changes that you propose than waging a senseless, fear- based, futile 'war; targeting addicts as enemies and thereby twice victimizing them."


"I have been reading, nay, devouring your addiction book. Thank you for your insights and for your bold compassion. I have been able for the first time to identify as an addict without any shame, and to accept the mission of recovery. "


"I am a Registered Nurse and work for Alberta Health Services. The portfolio that I work in is currently training all Corrections staff (officers and health care) in addictions and mental health…. [We] have incorporated some of your work into our training and I have to tell you that it has made the addiction section of the day so much more vibrant and conducive to learning… [We] have seen a change in attitude and learning during the sessions… I believe your work is a great catalyst for an overall change in attitude."


"I truly believe your book is an absolute blessing. I am now 1/3 of the way through and I cannot put it down. I was always in denial about how my personal traumas as a child reflecting the need for me to numb my post-traumatic stress with opiates. I always believed my addiction was simply a substance issue, and your book has been proving to me that the issues are much deeper than that. It has been a difficult process, however; I am truly grateful to have recognized the deeper truths to my addiction. This has helped me heal slowly but surely every day."


"Thanks for this book! As a drug and alcohol counselor, this is a book that makes sense, is compassionate and equally realistic. You have made it easier for me to do my work and to spread the word about the people we serve in the realm of compassion and understanding. "


"I worked in the field of addiction for a number of years, (I am now in private practice as a psychotherapist in Dublin, Ireland), and I teach. A lot of my students work in the addiction field. I absolutely love your approach to addiction and have sent the links to your interviews, lectures, etc, to anyone and everyone that I know who’s working in this field. "


"I just wanted to tell you, reading about you and reading this book – it has touched me, on the inside, finally I wasn’t alone – you reached me down to my bones – I saw myself, my lifelong struggles, my difficult inner fights with myself, finally put into writing – clear – not alone. ..thank you."


"I have just finished reading this magnificent book. I have lived and/or worked in the crossroads of addiction, mental health and corrections for most of my life. I learned a great deal from your excellent and comprehensive book. I wish that I had read it years ago. Also I found better understanding of my family, myself and my sister in it."


"The tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write to you. I just finished the book and I can’t tell you how much it aided me in fuller understanding of addictions. My husband is currently in [treatment] for crack addiction. The problem had gone on for a year without my knowledge. After reading the book, I am better able to help and support him on the road back to our life… Thank you for your amazing compassion. I look at humans in a whole different light."


"An anecdote: I was lying with my niece reading your book while she was watching television and she wanted to know what the book was about, and initially I didn’t know what to say to her – she is 5 – and then it came to me. I told her it was a book about learning to love."


"I was a Buddhist monk for eight years back in the 1980s, and now teach meditation in the guise of stress management. I’ve struggled for years to convey a true sense (not just description) of compassion… Reading your book creates a sustained sense of empathy that cuts to the bone, and your ability to write about abject misery in such a riveting way is amazing."


"Thank you for shedding light on this important topic and for being honest about your own struggles. I thinking having our so-called ‘experts’ admit their own vulnerabilities is key to humanizing addiction and the only way we can take steps towards healing."

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