Gabor Mate on Addiction

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Having written and performed a one person show partially about how Dr. Mate's work and books have impacted my life, I've got an abundance of his writings in my files, some of which I used one of the first articles posted on this site, and others have appeared in other articles and essays. Here are some quotes I haven't used, but that I think are well worth reading. These are from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction - and really, read the whole book! 


Dr. Gabor MateWhether we know it or not, most of us crave authenticity, the reality beyond roles, labels and carefully honed personae.


It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.


Chronic substance use is the addict’s attempt to escape distress. From a medical point of view, addicts are self-medicating conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or even ADHD.


Addictions always originate in pain, whether felt openly or hidden in the unconscious. They are emotional anesthetics. Heroin and cocaine, both powerful painkillers, also ease psychological discomfort.


Any passion can become an addiction; but then how to distinguish between the two? The central question is: who’s in charge, the individual or their behaviour? It’s possible to rule a passion, but an obsessive passion that a person is unable to rule is an addiction. And the addiction is the repeated behaviour that a person keeps engaging in, even though he knows it harms himself or others.


A recent imaging study showed that the ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) also “lights up” when people feel the pain of social rejection. In other words, we “feel” physical and emotional pain in the same part of the brain - and that, in turn, is crucial to our bonding with others who are important to us.


In the period following birth, the human brain, unlike that of the chimpanzee, continues to grow at the same rate as in the womb. Three quarters of our brain growth takes place outside the womb, most of it in the early years.


In the early stages of life, the infant’s brain has many more neurons and connections than necessary - billions of neurons in excess of what will eventually be required. This overgrown, chaotic synaptic tangle needs to be trimmed to shape the brain into an organ that can govern action, thought, learning and relationships and carry out its multiple and varied other tasks - and to coordinate them all in our best interests. “Experience causes some neurons and synapses (and not others) to survive and grow.”


The three environmental conditions absolutely essential to optimal human brain development are nutrition, physical security and consistent emotional nurturing. The third prime necessity - emotional nurture - is the one most likely to be disrupted in Western societies. The importance of this point cannot be overstated: emotional nurturance is an absolute requirement for healthy neurobiological brain development.


I still don’t accept that things are hopeless for any human being. I believe there is a natural strength and innate perfection in everyone.


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