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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

4.45  ·  Rating Details ·  3,341 Ratings  ·  399 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Vintage Canada (first published February 12th 2007)
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Written in clear, lucid prose any reasonably intelligent adult could understand, without a lot of confusing jargon, Dr. Mate explains the forces behind addiction and why so many addicts fail time and time again to get clean, in spite of all the incentives for doing so. This book gave me a lot to think about regarding the brain, and I also found his cautionary points about adoption studies and twin studies very interesting and relevant. Mate conclusively demonstrates that addicts are not "bad," t ...more
Aug 22, 2011 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this for a master of social work drug and alcohol class. The professor said we would likely become enthralled and breeze through it's 400 plus pages in a weekend as she did. That was not my experience. I took a really long time reading this book, highlighting as I went.
It was an excellent introduction to the field of addiction, blending tender humanity with hard science. I found Dr. Mate's critiques on the horribly flawed legal system to be spot on, his personal vingetes and descriptions
Lumumba Shakur
This is a fascinating look at the chemistry of addiction and a call to a more progressive public policy. Dr. Gabor Mate's style of writing is captivating and he is masterful at explaining specialized knowledge in laymen's language. My own mother, a recent graduate of medical school, when I summarized some of his arguments, commented on how Dr. Mate made connections for her that she could not quite make herself during her medical training (due to the emphasis on "treatment" over cause with respec ...more
Debbie "DJ"
This is the most comprehensive, thoroughly studied look at addiction I have ever read. Gabor Mate is a physician who works in one of Vancouver's roughest areas, The Portland Hotel Society, a building housing for the unhousable. Mate begins by introducing us to some of his patients, their horrific backgrounds, current addictions, and survival on the streets. Many are so heartbreaking I had to stop reading for awhile.

Mate then goes into a very scientific look at the brains of addicts. He details
Jansen Estrup
Jan 09, 2012 Jansen Estrup rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Mate's book is one of the most important of our age. Throughout he documents the plague of our time, addictions ranging from drug abuse to work-a-holism. He cites study after study, experience (he is a serial addict himself) as a drug counselor and researcher. It is stress, he argues, prenatal and as infants, which causes the childhood brain to wire itself in self destructive ways. These efforts are essential to survival as children but devastating in adolescents and adults.
As a fetus his s
Tricia Best
Dec 30, 2016 Tricia Best is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not much of a fangirl until it comes to doctors or scientists that step out of the box of the limited view of their academic training and start learning and teaching from their experiences.

Open-mindedness is S-E-X-Y.

So I fangirl all over the place when it comes to Gabor Maté. Not only is he from my home country (Canada), he has spoken on trauma as being at the root of addiction, mental illness and a number of other behavioural "disorders"--trauma as defined as a disconnection from oneself--
I cannot say enough good things about "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts". It is informative, well-written, touching, and inspirational. I have already started recommending it to friends and family as a must-read. The information is timely and important; our behaviour (collective and individual) towards addicts is at best of minimally useful and at worst counter-productive. “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” should be a wake up call for individuals and society to think differently about this pressing s ...more
Apr 29, 2012 Crystal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows anyone with substance abuse or OCD issues. Somehow Maté makes this work of nonfiction feel so much lighter than other nonfiction works about addiction and neuroscience. His humanization of the real-life characters and acceptance of his own reactions and behaviors as a person is admirable. As a fan of pop-neuroscience books, I have to say that this is perhaps the most valuable one I know of.

Through the true stories of individuals in his care, Maté
Nov 04, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
E. suggested I read “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” as part of my introduction to Vancouver, and gosh but was he right in recommending it.

The book’s author, Gregor Mate, is a doctor who works in Vancouver’s notorious downtown eastside - a neighbourhood known for being a drug zone. Mate uses interviews and character sketches of his patients as the individual grounding for his discussion of the causes and outcomes of addiction, as well as the detrimental drug policies that currently govern drug ad
Jan 10, 2012 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"My soul, sick and covered with sores, lunged outward instead, in a mad desire to scratch itself against some physical relief." St-Augustine

This is an excellent book. Dr. Maté understands this completely and has much to add to it.
Jack Hart
Jul 18, 2012 Jack Hart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: meditation

This is a book about "the social origins of addictive drives." It's argument, in a nutshell, is that we get hooked on stuff because our brains don't get what our brains all need and can come to crave: To know and be known by others, beginning in the family.

That's a very bald statement of the thesis of a wonderfully deep, far-reaching, and honest book. The author is the staff physician at the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver, Canada--an experimental treatment program for drug addicts which pr
Feb 18, 2013 Colin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gabor Maté has empathy for the people so many of us feel justified in fearing, hating, patronizing, and certainly not giving spare change to: hard-core injection drug users. His book tells such sad stories, for they are gut-wrenching stories that have led people to use, even when it brings lifelong debility and utter isolation. What the book does next is join these stories with clear and cogent accounts of the neurology involved in addiction. And interwoven throughout is a remarkable story of se ...more
Jul 20, 2012 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book clearly articulates how addiction is a complex biological chemical, neurological, psychological, medical, emotional, political, economic and spiritual issue. Dr. Mate illustrates that in order to understand addictions, we must first begin to understand the culture that helps to create them. We must look at the systemic oppressions and injustices that lay the foundations for addictive behavior and the cycles of abuse and neglect that perpetuate them.
In the US, drug addiction is conside
Jul 17, 2011 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
Far and away the most insightful, intelligent, and illuminating thing I've read on the subject of addiction-- especially drug addiction, but also behavioural addiction. I drew out the process of reading it for days in the hopes that I'd absorb it better-- particularly details about the neurophysiology of addiction and the chain of influence that leads an individual to become addictive. The book's only weakness is Maté's tendency to discuss his own compulsive and addictive behaviour (work addicti ...more
This book by a Canadian doctor describes addiction as a human response to trauma and an attempt to fill painful emptiness from the outside. The author says that most of his patients suffered terrible trauma in childhood and that such trauma can change the way the brain develops and affect later responses to stress. He argues against the hereditary theory of addiction. I find this interesting because in my experience working with mentally ill adults, I have also learned that most of them suffered ...more
May 10, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book totally transformed my understanding of addiction and especially injection drug users and crack smokers. Everyone should read this book.

The London school of economics just declared the total failure of the war on drugs. This book explains why years earlier, and what to do instead.
Jan 29, 2017 Tarmo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book goes from stories to neuroscience, back to stories and then to developmental psychology and then back to stories. This cycle continues with self help, introspection, harm reduction, active curiosity to practical advice how to deal with addicts. And myriad other topics related to addiction.

I really like the style because it starts from reality and then explains the theory. Addicts are people and their background and stories form this complex web of causalities taking us to their addictiv
Mar 11, 2010 Reid rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book about addictions of all types has much to recommend it. Maté has a wealth of experience with severe drug addiction, and he has obviously done his homework. But he has a tendency to go on and on (an addiction of its own!) and the book becomes tedious. He belabors many of his arguments and piles documentation upon documentation until one is bewildered by the sheer volume of the verbiage. What the author could most benefit from is a strict editor who could make this book about 2/3 its cur ...more
Dec 08, 2012 Kony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
An engaging and eye-opening education about addiction’s psychosocial, neurological, biochemical roots — and its destructive consequences — and the folly of our country’s military/criminal approach to what's really a social, emotional, cultural problem.

What’s impelled me to stay engaged with this fat paperback, reading for 3+ hours at a time? Not the bare desire to learn the facts, nor the shock value of these facts — but rather the author’s voice, his personality, the world of memories and regre
Abby Howell
Sep 25, 2016 Abby Howell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a lot in this book. Dr. Mate is a physician that serves the homeless and often drug addicted population on Vancouver, BC's eastside. This book is about his experiences there. The first few chapters literally rocked my world. I am working with a research study that often involves addicts or former addicts. And what he said, and how he said it, rang completely true. It turns out, addicts are people too. It turns out, addicts are us. It turns out that there is hope, but the hope comes from ...more
Overwhelming, brilliant, in your face, insightful, powerful, controversial, and hard to put down. A client recommended I read this, saying it is more "real" than most substance abuse books. Holy cow was it real! I felt that the first third covered stories and histories, the next third dealt with neurology and the science of addiction, while the last third covered some fairly controversial but intriguing recommendations. All said I am very glad I read this book. It definitely got me to re-think s ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the science behind why the drug war actually makes addiction harder to overcome. very convincing that compassion is the real best way to handle addition for the good of society, but fat chance any lawmakers in America will implement ideas from his successful Canadian clinic. it is clear that most people's ideas about addiction are based more in ideology than science at this point.
Cliff Thompson
Apr 23, 2013 Cliff Thompson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommended.

I am becoming a greater fan of Dr. Mate with every book I read. I started out with "Scattered," his book on causes and treatments of ADHD, and then went on to "Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers." It was hearing him speak about addicition on the radio that first piqued my interest, so I was excited to read this book.

Though the book is based on his experiences working at a public clinic for drug addicts in Vancouver, he uses drug addiction simply a
Jan 09, 2014 Amélie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On va se dire une chose : ce titre est mauvais & étrangement pompeux. (Je pense que c'est le Realm qui tue toute l'affaire.) Heureusement, ça n'empêche pas le livre d'être, pour quiconque s'intéresse au sujet de la dépendance, excellent & éclairant.

J'ai une job dans un organisme communautaire qui travaille avec les toxicomanes & les travailleuses/travailleurs du sexe. Quand je rentre chez moi le soir, la dernière chose dont j'ai envie, c'est de me replonger dans les tragédies qui m'e
Jun 23, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I heard about this book through an interview with the author, Dr. Gabor Maté, on NPR. At first I was shocked to hear him talk about working at “North America's only supervised injection site,” located in Vancouver, where people addicted to narcotics can inject themselves in the presence of medical personnel. But I was intrigued to hear Dr. Maté talk about the need for more compassionate care instead a system of punishment for people with drug addictions.

Breaking the cycle of addiction is a huge
Adrian Sanabria
Mar 07, 2012 Adrian Sanabria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Short synopsis: Though this book includes graphic stories that can be hard to read, I'd recommend anyone and everyone from ages 15 and up read this book. Many of the things you will learn in this book should be common knowledge.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about addiction, to the point that I think a book similar to this (perhaps restructured and reduced a bit) should be mandatory reading in high school. I think awareness at that level and age could even have a positive effect on
A non-preachy, respectful, compassionate and insightful look at the complexity of drug addiction (focusing on street level addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, but applicable to all addicts) and how drug prohibition and society's stigmatising of people using illegal substances is responsible for much of the shame, misery and death addicts deal with daily.

Dr Maté draws some interesting parallels between his compulsive purchasing and consumption of classical music CDs and a heroin or cocaine
Feb 27, 2010 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As psychology texts go, Dr. Gabor Maté's chronicle of the experience of many drug-addicted Canadians is rather accessible and easy to read. Dr. Maté outlines the experiences of many of the people living on skid row, and tries to rationalize their addictions without judging or justifying. In this, he succeeds nobly -- I would suspect that few readers can walk away from this book without having their eyes opened to the challenging situation in which many addicts find themselves, and without feelin ...more
Dee Capybara
Jun 03, 2015 Dee Capybara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With a very wordy book being almost 500 pages about addiction and the sad overwhelming dark side of Canada's east side in Vancouver, most people's eyes would glaze over and their interest would atrophy faster than Momma June's husbands nether's. BUT YA KNOW WHAT?! Mate, which is one of my favorite teas, is also now (one) of my favorite authors, he can swoon you with his own personal addiction (classical music and work...its not as mickey mouse as you think) and informs you on newer and different ...more
Jul 31, 2013 Skye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, firstly I want to say that this is one of the best books on addiction I've ever read (I think I've read 4 books on addiction), but this would be a five star review if he had just ended the book 50 pages earlier.

Here's what I loved. I love his compassion, I love his politics, I love how down he is for harm reduction. I really love his theory of addiction as a spectrum. I thought that was cool because AA treats addiction like "We are bodily and mentally different from our fellows", when what
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Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born Canadian physician who specializes in the study and treatment of addiction and is also widely recognized for his unique perspective on Attention Deficit Disorder and his firmly held belief in the connection between mind and body health.

Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1944, he is a survivor of the Nazi genocide. His maternal grandparents were killed in Auschwitz when he
More about Gabor Maté...

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“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.” 112 likes
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.” 83 likes
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