Gabor Maté

“Far more than a quest for pleasure, chronic substance use is the addict’s attempt to escape distress. From a medical point of view, addicts are self-medicating conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or even ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Addictions always originate in pain, whether felt openly or hidden in the unconscious. They are emotional anaesthetics.

Heroin and cocaine, both powerful physical painkillers, also ease psychological discomfort. Infant animals separated from their mothers can be soothed readily by low doses of narcotics, just as if it was actual physical pain they were enduring. The pain pathways in humans are no different. The very same brain centres that interpret and “feel” physical pain also become activated during the experience of emotional rejection: on brain scans they “light up” in response to social ostracism just as they would when triggered by physically harmful stimuli.

When people speak of feeling “hurt” or of having emotional “pain,” they are not being abstract or poetic but scientifically quite precise. The hard-drug addict’s life has been marked by a surfeit of pain. No wonder she desperately craves relief.”


Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
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