The Next Chapter

Gabor Maté's In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts still speaks to the nature of addiction, 10 years later

In this archival interview, the physician and author talks to Shelagh Rogers about his influential book.
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a bestselling nonfiction book on addiction by Dr. Gabor Maté. (Michael Moster)

Gabor Maté is a physician and author from Vancouver. Originally published in 2009, the timely and still relevant nonfiction work In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts looks at the epidemic of various addictions in our society and outlines the allure of drugs and the value of compassion.

This interview first re-aired on Oct. 29, 2018.

A walk through the Downtown Eastside 

"I always knew I would end up working in Vancouver as a physician. One is drawn to dealing with suffering and there's no more suffering anywhere in Canada than in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, for a whole host of reasons. It was also time for change and a challenge in my life after 20 years of family practice and palliative care.

"I get these people because I'm very much like them in very significant ways. I recognize them so I have the energy that I see at each stage also drives me sometimes. The work is really interesting. There's also a deep sense of authenticity down here where people are no longer pretend to be anything other than who they are."

An addictive nature

"There's only one addiction process, whether it's addiction to cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or sex. The brain circuits are the same, the psychological dynamics are the same and the consequences, apart from the obvious physical consequences of drug use, are very similar."

A call for compassion

"I've become a lot more compassionate toward myself and to a lot of other people since I've been working down here. There are two things you can do working here: You can either block yourself off psychologically and then you can be doing your work technically but not really helping people that much. Or you can get into a relationship with yourself and your own reactions and judgments and the disdain that sometimes arises in reaction to people who don't look after themselves very well. You realize how much they represent everything that is inside you as well. And that can only make you more compassionate."

Dr. Gabor Maté's comments have been edited for length and clarity.


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