In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

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9780676977400: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

In this timely and profoundly original new book, bestselling writer and physician Gabor Maté looks at the epidemic of addictions in our society, tells us why we are so prone to them and what is needed to liberate ourselves from their hold on our emotions and behaviours.

For over seven years Gabor Maté has been the staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a residence and harm reduction facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. His patients are challenged by life-threatening drug addictions, mental illness, Hepatitis C or HIV and, in many cases, all four. But if Dr. Maté’s patients are at the far end of the spectrum, there are many others among us who are also struggling with addictions. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, work, food, sex, gambling and excessive inappropriate spending: what is amiss with our lives that we seek such self-destructive ways to comfort ourselves? And why is it so difficult to stop these habits, even as they threaten our health, jeopardize our relationships and corrode our lives?

Beginning with a dramatically close view of his drug addicted patients, Dr. Maté looks at his own history of compulsive behaviour. He weaves the stories of real people who have struggled with addiction with the latest research on addiction and the brain. Providing a bold synthesis of clinical experience, insight and cutting edge scientific findings, Dr. Maté sheds light on this most puzzling of human frailties. He proposes a compassionate approach to helping drug addicts and, for the many behaviour addicts among us, to addressing the void addiction is meant to fill.

I believe there is one addiction process, whether it manifests in the lethal substance dependencies of my Downtown Eastside patients, the frantic self-soothing of overeaters or shopaholics, the obsessions of gamblers, sexaholics and compulsive internet users, or in the socially acceptable and even admired behaviours of the workaholic. Drug addicts are often dismissed and discounted as unworthy of empathy and respect. In telling their stories my intent is to help their voices to be heard and to shed light on the origins and nature of their ill-fated struggle to overcome suffering through substance use. Both in their flaws and their virtues they share much in common with the society that ostracizes them. If they have chosen a path to nowhere, they still have much to teach the rest of us. In the dark mirror of their lives we can trace outlines of our own.
from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

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Review:

He would probably dispute it, but Gabor Maté is something of a compassion machine. Diligently treating the drug addicts of Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside with sympathy in his heart and legislative reform in mind can't be easy. But Maté never judges. His book is a powerful call-to-arms, both for the decriminalization of drugs and for a more sympathetic and informed view of addiction. As Maté observes, "Those whom we dismiss as 'junkies' are not creatures from a different world, only men and women mired at the extreme end of a continuum on which, here or there, all of us might well locate ourselves." In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts begins by introducing us to many of Dr. Maté's most dire patients who steal, cheat, sell sex, and otherwise harm themselves for their next hit. Maté looks to the root causes of addiction, applying a clinical and psychological view to the physical manifestation and offering some enlightening answers for why people inflict such c! atastrophe on themselves.

Finally, he takes aim at the hugely ineffectual, largely U.S.-led War on Drugs (and its worldwide followers), challenging the wisdom of fighting drugs instead of aiding the addicts, and showing how controversial measures such as safe injection sites are measurably more successful at reducing drug-related crime and the spread of disease than anything most major governments have going. It's not easy reading, but we ignore his arguments at our peril. When it comes to combating the drug trade and the ravages of addiction, society can use all the help it can get. --Kim Hughes

About the Author:

Gabor Maté, M.D. is the author of the bestselling books Scattered Minds and When the Body Says No–published in ten languages on five continents–and co-author, with Gordon Neufeld, of Hold On To Your Kids. Former medical columnist for the Globe and Mail, where his byline continues to be seen on issues of health and parenting, Dr. Maté has had a family practice, worked as a palliative care physician and, most recently, with the addicted men and women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

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