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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

4.48  ·  Rating details ·  7,809 ratings  ·  794 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
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by Knopf Canada (first published February 12th 2007)
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Why Do We Do It ?

Addiction is a purposeful activity, not a disease or even a condition to be cured. The purpose of addiction is to compensate for trauma, often experienced in childhood, that has produced an emotional deficit and real physical and psychic pain. Addiction succeeds in compensating for this deficit and in reducing the pain involved. Addiction also has undesirable physical side effects which are amplified by social stigmas and legal prohibitions.

This, I think , is a fair summary of
Brenda - Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
Dr. Mate is a physician for The Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that provides housing and care to addicts who are in the last stages of addiction. He gives us a powerful and fascinating look into the science of addiction, and the addiction process. Dr. Mate also shares with us heart wrenching personal interviews of addicts he has worked with. These stories left me with feeling empathy and some understanding of individuals with addicted brains. There are no recoveries here ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderfully written and comprehensive description of addiction, written from a liberal and compassionate perspective, by someone who has experienced problems with addiction himself.

Part of Vancouver is dedicated to housing and helping people with serious addiction problems. This is Downtown Eastside, where about five hotels are now used to provide accommodation for these people. Dr Gabor Maté is their doctor and has a surgery in one of the hotels. He is also a highly respected practiti
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 30, 2016 marked it as to-read
Shelves: kindle, nonfiction
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--
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology, health
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And Maté is one dedicated hammer.

The first part of the book (patients' personal histories) is the best and only good part. The rest is painfully repetitive and unnecessary stretched out development of the author's Grand Theory of Human Addiction. The whole thing is almost preposterous.

For example, p233: "If children today are at greater risk for obesity than those of previous generations, it's not simply because they're less physically active as a resul
Lumumba Shakur
May 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drugs, psychiatry
If you live or work in a city, every day, you see people like those described in the first 100 pages or so of this book. Dr. Gabor gives you their back stories. They are the author’s drug addicted patients. After you see how much people are willing to lose to get the next hit, you learn of the brain chemistry, social policy, how addicts can be treated and Dr. Gabor’s own socially accepted addictions.

Gabor cites research that validates common sense for anyone who is observing. Addiction (and I p
Jansen Estrup
Jan 09, 2012 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
Mar 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Andrew (M)
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
Debbie "DJ"
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jack Hart
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: meditation
This is a book about "the social origins of addictive drives." Its 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 pro
Missy J
Aug 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Finally finished this book. For some reason, I thought that my sister highly recommended this book to me (she doesn't recall this) and I saw that one of my GR friends named it the best book she read in 2012. I liked Gabor Mate's work, but it's not mind-blowing nor the best thing that I read this year.

Gabor Mate, a doctor in Vancouver and has worked intensively with drug addicts and in this book gives us his thoughts and findings about addiction in general.

"Addiction is often a misguided attempt
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Verena Wachnitz
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very insightful book on the causes and origins on addition as well as how best help those afflicted. A must read for anyone suffering from addictions or with affected loved ones. At times the book can become a bit too anecdotal, at times a bit repetitive, I found. But I came away with so much information and knowledge and found it so engaging that I can only give it 5*.
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it
"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.
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Noah Graham
Mar 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Maté wants to be a Liberal/Jewish/Buddhist saint. I want to get true and interesting information about drug addiction. For much of the book our goals were in conflict.

He discusses how he was no better than the junkies he treated. Because he was addicted. To.Classical. Music.

He does incredible mental gymnastics to believe in free will while simultaneously claiming that 100% of addiction is due to stressful childhoods (including prenatal development). Checking over historical hard drug use rates
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Michael Mulligan
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It's no coincidence that a foster kid with ADHD, who gets shuffled from home to home to home, and doesn't form any lasting bonds with anyone, and falls behind every year in school, might turn to cocaine.

Dr Maté’s first hand descriptions of clients he has personally served, working first hand with the poor and addicted, are devastating. He draws from twenty years of experience working on East Hastings and Main, in downtown Vancouver (a locus in Canada that draws homeless addicts from all over th
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
John Dutt
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A really important book for anyone affected by addiction. I thought it was well written with the personal stories a nice mix in with the more scholarly information. I do think at times the info is a bit repetitive and could be condensed a bit. I felt I learned quite a bit more about the true causes of most addiction and that we almost all struggle with some type of addictive behavior. Personally the quest to avoid suffering and hold too strongly to pleasure had become the basis of how I was livi ...more
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: audio, nonfic
This book is thoroughly transformative for anyone trying to understand the why behind addictions. It will open your eyes to a thousand new perspectives.

Here's who should most urgently read this book:
-- lawmakers & policymakers
-- anyone working in the criminal "justice" system
-- law enforcement officers
-- anyone considering conceiving or adopting a child
-- parents of babies & children
-- anyone working in child care or child education
-- anyone with addicts or alcoholics in their life
-- anyone try
Džiugas Babenskas
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was a beautiful opportunity to stare into my own abyss for longer than usual without fear or shame.

As a young adult with an unpleasant upbringing, lack of potential fulfilment and being formerly rejected by a loved one after half-decade relationship I, too, carry a void inside—nothing exotic, just an ordinary human despair-fear-anxiety factory.

That leaves me free to use the addictions for self-soothing and to justify doing so by citing my “unmet” needs. In other words, the consequenc
Hannah Heinonen
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Learned a fair amount from this book, it was presented well and gave me a lot to ponder. That said, I'm dying for some fiction.
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Dr Gabor Maté (CM) 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

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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.” 187 likes
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