Book Review – In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters with Addiction

“In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters with Addiction”

By Dr. Gabor Mate

“From street-dwelling drug addicts to high functioning workaholics, the continuum of addiction cuts a wide and painful swath through our culture. Blending first-person accounts, riveting case studies, cutting-edge research and passionate argument, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts takes a panoramic yet highly intimate look at this widespread and perplexing human ailment. Countering prevailing notions of addiction as either a genetic disease or an individual moral failure, Dr. Gabor Mate presents an eloquent case that addiction – all addiction – is in fact a case of human development gone askew.”

This was a book I just couldn’t put down – especially given how closely it relates to the trauma-focused treatment we offer at South Pacific Private.

Whether it’s the intimate case studies, the scientific evidence relative to trauma, stress and the biology of addictions, the vulnerability and authenticity shared by the author relative to his own addictions, or the conclusions with which he sums up a life time of his own professional observations, this book is a compassionate must-read for anyone interested in understanding the impact of childhood trauma and how it relates to addictive behaviours as an adult.

Mate writes descriptively, with a beautiful combination of grace, empathy and hope, on a huge topic that spans generations.

Whilst offering no quick or easy solutions, Dr. Mate concludes: “The prevention of substance abuse needs to begin in the crib, and even before then, in the social recognition that nothing is more important for the future of our culture than the way children develop. Children who are emotionally well nurtured and brought up in stable communities do not need to become addicts.”

However Mate goes on to say…

“Trauma in the strict sense is not required for a young human being to suffer the loss of essence, the sense of oneness with all that is. Infants come into the world fully present and alive to every possibility, but they soon begin to shut down parts of themselves that their environment is unable to recognise or accept with love. As a consequence of that defensive shutdown, one or more essential qualities such as love, joy, strength, courage or confidence may be suppressed. In its place we experience a hole that then formulates unconscious beliefs.”

And it’s from there, that hole, that our patterns of behaviour emerge…

This powerful, moving and humbling book is highly recommended to anyone interested in learning more about where/ how addiction begins, how to view addiction with the empathy it so deserves, and how/ why addiction is a family disease and not isolated to one member of the family alone. The personal life stories shared by Dr. Gabor Mate reach right into his heart and mind and will stay with me – and I hope you too – for a long time to come.

If you are interested in finding out which other books we recommend – you can read our suggested reading list here.