Excerpt from a Democracy Now (KPFK) interview with Dr. Gabor Mate, staff physician at a safe injection site in Canada and author of, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close encounters with addiction.
"The hard core drug addicts that I treat, and according to all studies in the States, are people that without exception have had extraordinarily difficult lives. The commonality is childhood abuse. They entered life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they got negative circumstances of neglect. I don't have a single female patient on the downtown eastside who wasn't sexually abused for example, as were many of the men neglected, abandoned serially or abused. That's what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically in terms of emotional pain relief and neurobiological development to early adversity.
In the realm of hungry ghosts is a buddhist phrase. In the buddhist psychology there are a number of realms that a human being cycles through, all of us. One is the human realm which is ordinary cells. The hell realm is that of unbearable rage, fear, these emotions that are difficult to handle. The animal realm is our instincts, our id and our passions. Now the hungry ghost realm, the creatures in it are depicted as people with large empty bellies, small mouths and scrawny thin necks. They can never get enough satisfaction. They can never fill their bellies. They are always hungry, always empty, always seeking it from the outside. That speaks to a part of us that I have and everybody in our society has, where we want satisfaction from the outside. Where we're empty and where we want to be soothed by something in the short-term but we can never fill or fulfill that insatiety from the outside. The addicts are in that realm all the time, most of us are in that realm some of the time. My point really is that there is no clear distinction between the identified addict and the rest of the us. There is just a continuum on which we all may be found. They are on it because they have suffered a lot more than most of us."