I recently learned about the website Living Hero that produces podcasts of “living luminaries and mavericks” hosted by Jari Chevalier. Her most recent interview was with Dr. Gabor Mate, a Canadian physician with a broad range of life experience (and wisdom) on topics including: mind-body medicine, stress and trauma, ADD, and addiction.
I first heard about Dr. Mate when a close therapist friend told me about his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Shortly thereafter, another friend said he had been to Portland and spoke at a college campus.
Then…the podcast interview. Call me slow, but eventually I do pay attention when the universe is attempting to tell me something – like pay attention to this guy!
Living Hero podcast with Gabor Mate
After listening to the insightful interview by Jari (please go listen now), it is clear that much of what Dr. Mate believes is very much in line with the information on this website and blog. He advocates understanding addiction as a coping response to underlying pathologies, namely adverse childhood experiences.
These early events impact brain development, as well as other developmental capacities, resulting in the need for relationships with objects that help regulate stress and emotion cycles. Although much of the discussion focused on addiction as a coping response (feel better), I believe Dr. Mate would also agree that addictive behavior is perpetuated because it feels good – the brain likes it!
Addiction story: The Big Win
I remember a case involving a very successful business owner who decided to have lunch with her girlfriends at a local diner that just happened to also have newly installed video poker machines. Having no history of gambling behavior, she thought nothing of putting a buck in the machine to see what would happen. Minutes later she experienced a “big win” – a $600 dopamine rush.
So…the following week she told her girlfriends they should meet again for lunch at her lucky restaurant. She put another dollar in the machine and amazingly she won the jackpot again, another $600 big win. That was all it took for her brain chemistry to rearrange some important neurons that led to an out-of-control gambling addiction. Her husband brought her to the clinic because she was unable to stop playing video poker, was blowing thousands of dollars per day, and neglecting her business and family.
Although she did love how winning made her feel, in the end, her relationship with video poker machines was just another substitute for the human intimacy she so longed for, but struggled to obtain.
Addiction is a very complex problem with no easy answers. What I like most about Dr. Mate’s approach to healing is that it is humane, sensible, and incorporates harm reduction strategies. More information about his work can be found on his website. But if you can’t wait to read his book, then listen to the podcast by Jari, it is well worth your time.
Read my previous post on Gabor Mate for additional context for his work and beliefs about addiction.
Robert T. says
I am fascinated by the impressive amount of information on your website. In particular, I find your individual needs based practice and long-term treatment approaches refreshing. This makes sense! We must help people identify underlying causes and present solutions rather than simply treating acute symptoms. Ultimately, accessing emotions and working through them in healthy relationships with other people is the answer!
Thanks for the nice complement! Agree, promoting emotional health is critical to leading a good life.
I agree with Dr. John Fitzgerald’s post where he discussed adverse child hood experiences and how the experiences could cause damage. A while back I had a part time job working for a group home that was funded by the state. While I was there I met many kids/teenagers who had drug and alcohol addictions. When they were asked why they drank or did drugs some would respond because their friends did it while others responded that it help copes with harrowing events from their childhood.
There was a resident who was very violent and would come back from school intoxicated. He would pick fights with the staff and other group home residents. After reading his record, I found out that this kid had been molested by his mother and mother’s live-in boyfriend. Another resident who faced the same drug and alcohol addiction was molested by his stepfather.
Within the blog, it discussed that the adverse childhood experience can impact brain development as well as other developmental abilities which seems to be accurate because most of the teenagers were in high school but only comprehended at a 5th grade level. The teenager that was molested by his stepfather while as a child was 19 years old and still in the 10th grade; he later was enrolled in adult school before his 20th birthday and was transitioned into an all-male housing facility for adults.
After reading the podcast post you linked to, I was struck by how important attachment theory is to so many of the more inclusive models of addiction. Dr. Mate’s particular contribution that people are conditioned for a hostile, dangerous, and uncaring world that makes them withdraw and then form relationships with objects seemed like a really important intervention into how we talk about people with addictions and how we can formulate treatment plans. Where does the conditioning come from? How is it reinforced? What are the long term tools for unlearning it? How do we work with clients on this as well as society as a whole? These all seem like major issues in a necessary paradigm shift. I also thought that thinking about addictive behaviors as an “unquenchable longing” was not only poetic but incredibly powerful in informing how we see, interact with, and address issues of addiction in our own lives and those of others. How do we heal as a people when there is an unquenchable thirst driving us? What are the strategies of love and connection we can use with those around us who are yearning on such a deep level and yet that yearning often results in distancing or projection tactics?
As to your example in this post about the woman whose feel good response to winning twice at gambling, I wondered what void that was filling for her. It also made me think about the growing number of gambling establishments in Oregon, the recent ballot measure that wanted to increase state involvement in running a gambling facility, and the connections we have created here between educational funding, public works, tribal self-sufficiency, and addiction. How do we untangle those things? Is their irony, as one of my AIM colleagues claims, in the reversal of addiction control from the colonial to the colonized? And if so, where is the healing when the irony fades?
Quite honestly, I have never heard anything that makes more sense to me than the idea that so much of addiction is caused by our experiences—especially those of our early childhood development. I think it was John Locke that was the theorist that said that we are we are a blank slate when we are born and what happens to us after we begin to grow leads us to be who we become. Further what Locke said we are and we become the sum total of our experiences.
For the most part (I would argue), we are perfect when we are born. Having seen a few newborns I cannot think of anything more perfect that I have ever experienced. Having experience many (literally 1000s) 12 step meetings I would also say that so much of the pain that is still exists in the rooms is the residual of effects of childhood psycho-social and environmental patterns of dysfunction.
According to Dr. Felitti, these experiences have scientifically been proven as a causal relationship between addiction and not having addiction. I would again argue that if someone has a 46 hundred more percent to be drug addict having had a set of criteria as that is on the ACE scale. This argument is made. There is a causal effect. Dr. Mate also believes this and treats his patients accordingly.
It is definitely the facts of my own life. I have heard so many who have had extreme drug addictions speak of terrible tragedy and pain in their lives. I have heard all kinds of terrific and horrible stories of every kind of childhood abuse: physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological that one can image. I know many people who should be dead—myself included.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this podcast. I really related to a lot of what Dr. Mate was sharing. One of the last things he shares is his goal of helping liberate people as prisoners of their childhood- to help people out of their addictive and compulsive behaviors and out of unconscious patterns. This has been a challenge for me in my own life. Being that I am in my late 20’s, I have been learning more about myself and my family of origin over the last decade. I have been trying hard to put the puzzle pieces together to help explain certain aspects of myself and to gain better control of who I am becoming. This is a very complicated process that requires looking at past events from different perspectives and second-guessing previously known assumptions. Once I removed some of the detrimental behaviors from my life, I was better able to see the damaged areas of my life. I knew that I needed people to help support me through this process and have sought this out at various times. I truly believe in what Dr. Mate shared about people’s light and wholeness being stronger than their addictions- that we all have the capacity to heal. But it takes people in our lives to believe in us and to communicate this belief to us. As I moved forward from my “addiction”, I found myself boldly speaking the “truth” in my family of origin. I shared some stuff that I had kept hidden my whole life and pointed out interactional patterns that were bothering me. To this day, I continue to try to speak about the dark areas of my life that I continue to struggle with. I find that the more I air it out in the light of day, the weaker the power it has over me via fear, shame, hopelessness…etc. I find myself needing to be “attuned” with my husband and to be that person for him. I really hope to read one of Dr. Mate’s books and am interested in his next one about bullying.
Many aspects of this podcast struck me by surprise not because I do not believe it is true but because I have never thought of the ideas before. The first idea is that addicts are the scapegoats of the world and that each person has an addiction or a tendency to to addictions to one things or another but we project our negative thoughts about addictions on those who have visible addictions. The other topic he discussed was the life expectancy of people with addictions is far less than others in the population. I find this shockingly true when thinking about clients I have worked with and even personal friends or family. My uncle died at the age of 42 after a long episode of alcohol abuse. i was shocked when he died but also realized he was in a better place rather than living with the ACEs and pain he must have been experiencing. The final topic discussed that fascinated me was the idea that people are not narcissistic but they are stuck in that developmental stage in childhood. If we think about this when working with clients and use corrective re experiencing to teach them better was to cope and how to develop past this stage I believe it will help with tackling their addictions.
I agree with Dr. Mate that we all must work together if we ever expect to do better. I began asking myself questions as I continued to listen to Dr. Mate. We are treating the symptoms of the addicted parent while the children are being placed into foster care. Treating the symptoms ensures that more addicts live. It does not ensure the addict will not relapse. Instead of providing services for the parents, children and families we can only afford to save the life of the addict. We need to do better than this.
The children of the addict experience one traumatic event after another. The purpose of DHS is to reunite families but what about the children. Are those children given the tools like counseling so that they do not end up addicted as well? Are the families in counseling together after they are reunified? Dr. Mate mentioned the importance of the child feeling loved, accepted and listened to. We have programs like Big Brother Big Sister but we need to do better. How do we do better? Are we focusing so much of our time on trying to figure out why……. that we are ending up with very few solutions to help once the family is back together.
The podcast and the U-Tube also reminded me of Object Relations Theory and how early experiences from conception and experiences from the environment continue to influence whether or not a person experiences addiction. For some time now the worth of a person is measured by the amount or quality of the objects they own. Why does it surprise us when our children or the baby boomer generation start to draw pleasure from objects (drugs, money, materialism, Christmas presents, sex) and steer away from people? When will we start to teach our children, that objects are bad and relationships with people are good?
There are many systems involved which only required one broken part in order for the system to stop working. Where do we start to do better?
It astounds me the impact our ACE’s have on us, and how the most seemingly innocent things can trigger them. To go from being a successful business owner to having an out of control gambling addiction, is almost too much for me to wrap my mind around. It is almost as if when we encounter trauma in our childhood that it implants this bomb of addiction in our brains, and as we go through life and become even more disconnected it just waits to bump into that trigger – the trigger for each person being different. It amazse me how resilient and how fragile we all are. It amazes me how careless and harmful people can be to one another too. I like Dr. Mates approach; being humane, and utilizing harm reduction seems like the sensible approach to dealing with the underlying pathologies of addiction. The empathy to get to the root of the addiction, I think is key.
I think that once we can understand that addictions come from deeper place rooted in the past, rather than thinking it was a bad choice made by the addict, can help us understand the addicted person and their addiction more successfully in order to help them heal.