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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction [Hardcover]

Gabor Mate M.D.
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 12 2008
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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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 catastrophe 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


Praise for Hold on to Your Kids:

“Maté has expressed [Neufeld’s] ideas in precise and hard-hitting prose that makes complex ideas accessible without dumbing them down. The result is a book that grabs hard.”
Edmonton Journal

Praise for When the Body Says No:
“When Maté witnesses and testifies to human suffering, including his own, he is compassionate and compelling.”
The Globe and Mail

“Written with clarity and compassion. . . . The book’s characteristics seem to describe Maté himself: armed with knowledge and straight from the heart.”
Georgia Straight

“[An] enthralling exploration. . . . Maté probes deeply into the life histories and psyches of [his] many patients. . . . What emerges is nothing short of a revelation.”
Edmonton Journal

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Believe me, I HAVE read the book; I just don't have the time at the moment to write a detailed review. I'll attempt to do so at a later date.

In my work as a security officer I've worked around the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, with it's attendant social problems: homelessness or grossly inadequate housing, drug addiction, trafficing and human misery.

In part, I read this book in an attempt to understand the environment and circumstances of the people I encountered in my security function; mostly "removal of trespassers from private property".

From reading the book I feel I've acquired a much better understanding of the nature of addiction and the personal and social circumstances that tend to give rise to the condition.

The book deals with the subject in considerable depth, and while written for the lay person, this level of detail is not easily absorbed. It may require more than one, or several readings of certain parts and some reference to source materials to properly "digest" the information.

In order not to deter the potential reader, I should point out that the text is highly readable, in large part due to his very compassionate portrayal of the lives of some of his patients, and his frank admission of his own addictive behaviours, along with his ideas about their causes.

A very worthwhile read!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
The experience of reading this book is like being bathed in wisdom and compassion. For a recovering addict like myself, it felt as if I had been given a wonderful gift. It presents a brilliantly clear and comprehensive view of the damaged spirit of the addict, for whom warped brain circuitry combined with emotional misery have reduced them to existing in a living hell. My sincere thanks to Mr. Mate for writing this amazing, sensitive, insightful book.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hungry for Solutions Jan. 18 2011
Gabor Matés latest book effectively demolishes the belief that addictions arise from chemical imbalances, genetics, or bad choices.

As in his two previous books, Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder (1999) and When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress (2003), Maté situates human suffering in a social context, inviting a political discussion of how social relations affect human health.

Scattered Minds locates symptoms of ADD in the social neglect of children's needs and concludes,

"What begins as a problem of society and human development has become almost exclusively defined as a medical ailment."

When the Body Says No indicts "industrialized society along the capitalist model" as a source of toxic stress that "escalates as the sense of control diminishes" and causes physical and mental breakdown.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts condemns society for depriving human beings of what they need to thrive and then persecuting and punishing them for using drugs to relieve their pain.

All three books are well-written, engaging and brilliantly expose the fake science that pushes a pill for every ill.

While Maté situates human distress in the social realm, he seeks solutions in the personal realm.

In When the Body Says No the author concludes,

"In numerous studies of cancer, the most consistent identified risk factor is the inability to express emotion, particularly the feelings associated with anger." (p.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts Aug. 30 2010
As I nurse, I have studied and worked in the field of addictions.
This is by far the best approach I have ever seen to understanding these misunderstood afflictions. Despite recent research, it is still common to "blame the victim". I especially appreciate the author's revelations about his own illness. No "Ivory Tower" preaching, here!
I would love to see Dr. Mate's books become mandatory reading for fledgling medical, nursing, education, law enforcement and sociology students. FAH
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Squeamish April 21 2013
By YVRguy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dr Mate works in Vancouver Canada downtown east side. I live in Vancouver and know this area as most residents do , as an outsider. The understanding , empathy and recognition Dr Mate writes as he describes some very difficult episodes from long suffering people gives a view of the addict as a human being first and addict second. If you are in recovery or never had any addiction issues in your life , you may find your point of view on the problem and people within addiction changed once you read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read! Feb. 16 2010
By Ricky
This is a powerful book about addictions and public policy. It is aimed at what future generations will term the Dark Ages of attitudes toward addictions. What a lot we have to learn! But here is a very useful summary of evidence that our attitudes to Drug use are exacerbating one of the most serious problems we face. And how we could change for the better if we really cared.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful read Oct. 1 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is my third copy. I loaned out my other copies and if the reader embraces the book, I tell him or her to keep it. This book has a flow to it and a voice that has allowed me to be more compassionate and non-judgemental. With addictions, we all have our perspectives and opinions on types of people and what to do. This book has helped me to just be with the people I talk to and allow them their voice. I often refer to this book to keep perspective.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It all seems so simple but not.
Dr. Mate writes with such clarity of thinking and posts his research in truly layman's language. It has been a pleasure to stumble upon his work.
Published 15 days ago by pauline
5.0 out of 5 stars I am glad I read this book
Very honest and captivating writing. Dr. Gabor Mate has forever changed my perception of addiction and by extension, addicts themselves. I am glad I read this book.
Published 1 month ago by Dan
5.0 out of 5 stars The great Gabor Mate
This man knows the inside stuff we all wish we could put our finger on and put into words. He is an amazing mind and a compassionate heart... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Tom P.
5.0 out of 5 stars A good source of information
I have known Dr. Mare previously from his family practice and admired his work. Additionally, I am dealing with a family issue and this book was recommended to me from a friend as... Read more
Published 5 months ago by PM
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
This is a very well-written book regarding a very interesting topic. Dr. Mate writes in a comprehensive way with a lot of insight in drawing connections to understanding addiction. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Micha Hogg
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
Addictions is an emotional, controversial area, where there is often a lot of blaming and shaming. This book made me think much more about the issue, and to see persons affected... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jennifer Purdy
5.0 out of 5 stars In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
The book itself is excellent and revolutionary. The CD is easy to listen to as I drive to work. I am captivated and easily pick up where I left off.
Published 11 months ago by Lesley M. Llewellyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime.
I love Gabor and his books so much. His work is changing lives. His writing is so unbelievably lucid and heartfelt. This must be read by anyone struggling with addiction.
Published 11 months ago by Anonymous
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone touched by addiction
Dr Mate is articulate, compassionate, intelligent, and clearly educated. I learned more about the psych-social-biological roots of addiction here than in any AA room, doctor's... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ashley Moggggggggggg
3.0 out of 5 stars great first hand accounts, but sadly lacking in scientific rigour
Dr. Mate has a engaging writing style, which makes his first hand accounts of addiction and its consequences so powerful. However, like his other books (e.g. Read more
Published 14 months ago by B. Keith
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