Gabor Maté

“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates. Passion is divine fire: it enlivens and makes holy; it gives light and yields inspiration. Passion is generous because it’s not ego-driven; addiction is self-centred. Passion gives and enriches; addiction is a thief. Passion is a source of truth and enlightenment; addictive behaviours lead you into darkness. You’re more alive when you are passionate, and you triumph whether or not you attain your goal. But an addiction requires a specific outcome that feeds the ego; without that outcome, the ego feels empty and deprived. A consuming passion that you are helpless to resist, no matter what the consequences, is an addiction.

You may even devote your entire life to a passion, but if it’s truly a passion and not an addiction, you’ll do so with freedom, joy and a full assertion of your truest self and values. In addiction, there’s no joy, freedom or assertion. The addict lurks shame-faced in the shadowy corners of her own existence. I glimpse shame in the eyes of my addicted patients in the Downtown Eastside and, in their shame, I see mirrored my own.

Addiction is passion’s dark simulacrum and, to the naïve observer, its perfect mimic. It resembles passion in its urgency and in the promise of fulfillment, but its gifts are illusory. It’s a black hole. The more you offer it, the more it demands. Unlike passion, its alchemy does not create new elements from old. It only degrades what it touches and turns it into something less, something cheaper. Am I happier after one of my self-indulgent sprees?

Like a miser, in my mind I recount and catalogue my recent purchases — a furtive Scrooge, hunched over and rubbing his hands together with acquisitive glee, his heart growing ever colder. In the wake of a buying binge, I am not a satisfied man. Addiction is centrifugal. It sucks energy from you, creating a vacuum of inertia. A passion energizes you and enriches your relationships. It empowers you and gives strength to others. Passion creates; addiction consumes — first the self and then the others within its orbit.”


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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