Gabor Maté

“Beauty Junkies is the title of a recent book by New York Times writer Alex Kuczynski, “a self-confessed recovering addict of cosmetic surgery.” And, withour technological prowess, we succeed in creating fresh addictions. Some psychologists now describe a new clinical pathology — Internet sex addiction disorder. Physicians and psychologists may not be all that effective in treating addictions, but we’re expert at coming up with fresh names and categories. A recent study at Stanford University School of Medicine found that about 5.5 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women appear to be addicted shoppers.

The lead researcher, Dr. Lorrin Koran, suggested that compulsive buying be recognized as a unique illness listed under its own heading in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official psychiatric catalogue. Sufferers of this “new” disorder are afflicted by “an irresistible, intrusive and senseless impulse” to purchase objects they do not need. I don’t scoff at the harm done by shopping addiction — I’m in no position to do that — and I agree that Dr. Koran accurately describes the potential consequences of compulsive buying: “serious psychological, financial and family problems, including depression, overwhelming debt and the breakup of relationships.”

But it’s clearly not a distinct entity — only another manifestation of addiction tendencies that run through our culture, and of the fundamental addiction process that varies only in its targets, not its basic characteristics. In his 2006 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush identified another item of addiction. “Here we have a serious problem,” he said. “America is addicted to oil.” Coming from a man who throughout his financial and political career has had the closest possible ties to the oil industry.

The long-term ill effects of our society’s addiction, if not to oil then to the amenities and luxuries that oil makes possible, are obvious. They range from environmental destruction, climate change and the toxic effects of pollution on human health to the many wars that the need for oil, or the attachment to oil wealth, has triggered. Consider how much greater a price has been exacted by this socially sanctioned addiction than by the drug addiction for which Ralph and his peers have been declared outcasts. And oil is only one example among many: consider soul-, body-or Nature-destroying addictions to consumer goods, fast food, sugar cereals, television programs and glossy publications devoted to celebrity gossip—only a few examples of what American writer Kevin Baker calls “the growth industries that have grown out of gambling and hedonism.”


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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