In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts


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by Gabor Maté, M.D.

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 inCanadian and U.S. editions, as well as an acclaimedaudiobook 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 social and legal frameworks for dealing with the addiction epidemic, and shows why they are doomed to failure. He proposes an evidence-based, compassionate approach to treating and healing addiction in ourselves, in our families, and in our society.

About the Author: Born in 1944 in Budapest, Hungary, Gabor Maté moved to Canada with his family during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He graduated from Kitsilano Secondary School in Vancouver, British Columbia, and subsequently earned a B.A. in English from the University of British Columbia and a teaching degree from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC. In his late twenties he was working as a Grade 11 history teacher in North Vancouver, BC when, heeding an inner call that had been with him since childhood, he decided to return to school to pursue a career as a doctor.

Dr. Maté ran a popular family practice in East Vancouver for two decades. For seven years he also served as Medical Co-ordinator of the Palliative Care Unit at Vancouver Hospital, caring for the terminally ill. More recently he worked for twelve years in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside neighbourhood with patients suffering from hardcore drug addiction, mental illness and HIV.

In the 1990s Dr. Maté was a regular medical columnist for the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mailnewspapers. He has also had many articles and columns published on other topics, from political and cultural commentary to book reviews. He has written four books, all Canadian bestsellers, published altogether in nearly twenty languages on five continents.

In 2009 Dr. Maté received an Outstanding Alumnus Award from Simon Fraser University, and has recently been appointed Adjunct Professor in SFU’s School of Criminology. This year (2011) he will receive an Honorary Degree from the University of Northern British Columbia.

Dr. Maté maintains a busy international touring/speaking schedule year-round. He is the father of three adult children and lives in Vancouver with Rae, his wife and better half of 42 years.

ISBN-10: 155643880X    –    ISBN-13: 978-1556438806

Additional information

Weight 25 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × 1.2 in