Dr. Gabor Mate is a world renowned speaker, best selling author and lecturer who specializes in the study and treatment of addiction.
In this episode we spoke to Dr. Mate regarding various aspects of this condition as viewed by western society, how we can change some of the misconceptions regarding addiction and use compassion when dealing with people suffering from this disease.
A renowned speaker, and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development. Rather than offering quick-fix solutions to these complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories, and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them. For twelve years Dr. Maté worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with patients challenged by hard-core drug addiction, mental illness and HIV, including at Vancouver’s Supervised Injection Site. With over 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience and extensive knowledge of the latest findings of leading-edge research, Dr. Maté is a sought-after speaker and teacher, regularly addressing health professionals, educators, and lay audiences throughout North America.
As an author, Dr. Maté has written several bestselling books including the award-winning In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction; When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress; and Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder, and co-authored Hold on to Your Kids. His works have beenpublished internationally in twenty languages.
Dr. Maté is the co-founder of Compassion for Addiction, a new non-profit that focusses on addiction. He is also an advisor of Drugs over Dinner.
Dr. Maté has received the Hubert Evans Prize for Literary Non-Fiction; an Honorary Degree (Law) from the University of Northern British Columbia; an Outstanding Alumnus Award from Simon Fraser University; the 2012 Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from Mothers Against Teen Violence; and the 2012 AccolAIDS award for Health Promotion and Harm Reduction, Positive Living Society of B.C.. He is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Criminology, Simon Fraser University.
A recurring theme in Maté’s books is the impact of a person’s childhood on their mental and physical health through neurological and psychological mechanisms, which he connects with the need for social change. In the book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, he proposes new approaches to treating addiction (e.g. safe injection sites) based on an understanding of the biological and socio-economic roots of addiction.
He describes the significant role of “early adversity” i.e. stress, mistreatment and particularly childhood abuse, in increasing susceptibility to addiction. This happens through the impairment of neurobiological development, impairing the brain circuitry involved in addiction, motivation and incentive.
Dr. Mate argues the “war on drugs” actually punishes people for having been abused and entrenches addiction more deeply as studies show that stress is the biggest driver of addictive relapse and behavior.
He says a system that marginalizes, ostracizes and institutionalizes people in facilities with no care and easy access to drugs, only worsens the problem. He also argues the environmental causes of addiction point to the need to improve child welfare policies (e.g. U.S. welfare laws that force many single women to find low-paying jobs far away from home and their children) and the need for better support for families overall, as most children in North America are now away from their parents from an early age due to economic conditions. He feels that society needs to change policies that disadvantage certain minority groups, causing them more stress and therefore increased risks for addictions.
The impact of childhood adversity is also noted in When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection. He notes that early experiences have a key role in shaping a person’s perceptions of the world and others, and in stress physiology, factors that affect the person’s health later on. He says that emotional patterns ingrained in childhood live in the memory of cells and the brain and appear in interpersonal interactions. He describes the impact of ‘adverse childhood experiences’ or ACEs (e.g. a child being abused, violence in the family, a jailed parent, extreme stress of poverty, a rancorous divorce, an addict parent, etc.) on how people live their lives and their risk of addiction and mental and physical illnesses, as seen in a number of U.S.-based Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) studies. Having a number of ACEs exponentially increases a person’s chances of becoming an addict later on e.g. a male child with six ACEs has a 4,600% or 46-fold increase in risk. ACEs also exponentially increase the risk of diseases e.g. cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. and also suicide and early death.
Dr. Mate argues that patients should therefore be encouraged to explore their childhoods and the impact on their adult behaviors. Overall, he argues people benefit by taking a holistic approach to their own health. For instance, he has seen people survive supposedly terminal diagnoses by seriously considering their “mind-body unity” and “spiritual unity”; going beyond “the medical model of treatment.”
He has also spoken about how the rise in bullying, ADHD and other mental disorders in American children are the result of current societal conditions e.g. a disconnected society and “the loss of nurturing, non-stressed parenting.” That is, we live in a society where for the first time in history, children are spending most of their time away from nurturing adults. He asserts that nurturing adults are necessary for healthy brain development.
Find Dr. Maté and his work here: www.drgabormate.com
A big thanks to Dr. Mate for being on the show. Music: The Glitch Mob – Drive it like you stole it.