July 30, 2011
“Nothing sways them from their habit, not illness, not the sacrifice of all earthly goods, not the crushing of their dignity, not the fear of dying, the drive is that relentless.”
This eerie description of drug addiction is an excerpt from, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, by Gabor Maté. The author, a front-line professional combating addiction in Canada, questions the premise that addiction is a choice that people make.
If people are diseased or predisposed or making a moral compromises, through their own free will, then society is allowed to simplify a complicated issue and avoid any share of the responsibility.
For instance, the thesis of this book criticizes the criminal justice’s unscientific assumption that drug addicts are culpable because they choose to do drugs.
Does that make sense – people want to, choose to be addicted? People addicted to opiates are self-medicating. What we are medicating is pain similar to the way our medical establishment reduces suffering. Soldiers in Iraq, exposed to a potentially traumatic incident are given morphine and test results show they are less likely to suffer from a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The army uses opiates to medicate PTSD. People in hospital are given opiates by responsible doctors to manage pain.
So the question is not “Why the addiction” but rather, “Why the pain?” Even a drunkard is described as someone “feeling no pain.” So, addicts are often medicating pain, depression, grief and shock. They may not know they have a disorder, they may not be able to articulate or understand their condition but they are medicating the symptoms. In many cases we medicate the symptoms without awareness of the condition causing the pain.
“The Doctors Opinion” in the 1939 printing of “Alcoholics Anonymous” was insightful and helpful; it is worth studying. Also useful, is a dedication to reinforce what we have learned and to expand on what we have learned. With rigorous open-mindedness, we seek second and third opinions. More is being revealed; all we have to do is keep our eyes, ears and hearts open. We help ourselves. We are a greater service to others.
Gabor Maté immigrated to Canada with his family in 1957 from Budapest, Hungry whereup0n he pursued his childhood dream of being a physician. Dr. Maté ran a private family practice in East Vancouver, one of Canada’s Heroin capitals, for over twenty years. He was also the medical coordinator of the Palliative Care Unit at Vancouver Hospital for seven years.
Currently he is the staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a residence and resource center for the people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Many of his patients suffer and die on the streets. Mental illness, drug addiction, Hepatitis and HIV all take the lives of his patients at his Vancouver harm-reduction clinic.
Get more Gabor connecting addition to childhood trauma: HERE.
Read more about this author’s books, including, “When the Body Says No: the Cost of Hidden Stress” and “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction.” HERE .