Gabor Maté

“All addictions — whether to drugs or to nondrug behaviours — share the same brain circuits and brain chemicals. On the biochemical level the purpose of all addictions is to create an altered physiological state in the brain. This can be achieved in many ways, drug taking being the most direct. So an addiction is never purely “psychological” all addictions have a biological dimension. And here a word about dimensions. As we delve into the scientific research, we need to avoid the trap of believing that addiction can be reduced to the actions of brain chemicals or nerve circuits or any other kind of neurobiological, psychological or sociological data. A multilevel exploration is necessary because it’s impossible to understand addiction fully from any one perspective, no matter how accurate.

Addiction is a complex condition, a complex interaction between human beings and their environment. We need to view it simultaneously from many different angles — or, at least, while examining it from one angle, we need to keep the others in mind. Addiction has biological, chemical, neurological, psychological, medical, emotional, social, political, economic and spiritual underpinnings — and perhaps others I haven’t thought about. To get anywhere near a complete picture we must keep shaking the kaleidoscope to see what other patterns emerge. Because the addiction process is too multifaceted to be understood within any limited framework, my definition of addiction made no mention of “disease.”

Viewing addiction as an illness, either acquired or inherited, narrows it down to a medical issue. It does have some of the features of illness, and these are most pronounced in hardcore drug addicts like the ones I work with in the Downtown Eastside. But not for a moment do I wish to promote the belief that the disease model by itself explains addiction or even that it’s the key to understanding what addiction is all about. Addiction is “all about” many things. Note, too, that neither the textbook definitions of drug addiction nor the broader view we’re taking here includes the concepts of physical dependence or tolerance as criteria for addiction.

Tolerance is an instance of “give an inch, take a mile.” That is, the addict needs to use more and more of the same substance or engage in more and more of the same behaviour, to get the same rewarding effects. Although tolerance is a common effect of many addictions, a person does not need to have developed a tolerance to be addicted.”


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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