Sunday, May 30th, 2010
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: Close Encounters with Addiction. 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!
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!
I remember a case involving 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 byJari, it is well worth your time.