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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    All I can do is rave

    I won't try (too hard) to summarize, since not really possible. However, a fascinating mix of personal encounters with hard-core addicts, self-discovery on Mate's own part, brain science, psychology and philosophy, and some spiritualism as well. Some politics too.

    I can't imagine a more definitive writing on addiction in general, addictions of all kinds, specifically both "substance" and "behavioral." For Mate, the addiction is behavioral, and his honesty is riveting, the kind of honesty seldom encountered. Mate's a champion of "know thyself," and he knows himself and that makes his writing "authentic." Believe it.

    A concern for "authenticity" is at the heart of this book, and must be a must read. It's utterly brilliant; I'm giving it a rave review. (And policy-makers ought be forced to read it--over and over if necessary, until they get it. The so-called "war on drugs" is insanity. [My words, not Mate's, but he's not got use for it.])

    Most striking perhaps is Mate's compassion, in combination with his honesty--not only regarding himself but also the "junkies" (which term I use advisedly) he regularly sees and treats in his capacity as physician on the east side of Vancouver. He writes from street experience, and interestingly, writes of discovering authenticity among those he treats. Personally, I haven't a doubt about that. Those he writes of are the real down-and-outers, the ones who've been to hell and come back, or not. Too many never come back.

    There's no pop psychology, no promise of cure, no Pollyanna nonsense. This is not a pop book but a serious examination of the causes and effects of addictions.

    Mate fills us in on the latest neuroscience, the studies that have been done and are being done to try and understand how addiction happens, when it's likely to happen and possibly how more seriously to treat them. Science has made significant progress that goes largely unreported in major media. (Not least for political reasons. Again, my words, not Mate's, though I think he would agree.)

    Mate doesn't walk past the junkie but cares for her. His compassion seemingly unlimited, which is not to say he--as he also confesses--hasn't and doesn't sometimes think of them the way most all of us do--with irritation, even disgust, and with an excess of unwarranted judgment. This book, as noted, is also Mate's exploration of his own beliefs, attitudes and feelings toward his patients.

    He alludes to and cites countless thinkers, from Dostoevsky (his fav, and mine) to Carl Rogers to Buddha. Mate is himself, I think, on a par with Rogers, Erikson, et al.

    If you're looking for an easy read, don't look here. If you're looking for a rewarding read, this is the one to get on the topic of addiction and on getting to know oneself too. It is, or rather can be, a personal guide if one choose to make it so. I discovered myself doing just that as I read.

    One could on and on, which is why the book can't really be summarized, only fully read. I ought note that Mate does offer help for any reader in the midst of one or more addictions. Help, not cures. Simply reading the book is helpful, but he offers more in the end, and I think--based on my own experience--that what he offers is right. That is, not any simple, let alone easy, cure, but some hope and some direction, a few ways to go, depending on the individual. That sounds right to this reader, who pr

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2010

    In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

    This book starts out as a riveting read. Dr. Mate writes beautifully, combining personal vignettes with scientific knowledge to give the reader a "feel for addictions" of all sorts: drugs, hoarding, power, gambling,and others.

    His basic premise is, "Brain development in the uterus and during childhood is the single most important biological factor in determining whether or not a person will be predisposed to substance dependence and to addictive behaviors of any sort, whether drug-related or not." He writes not to bash caregivers, but to encourage caregivers to do their best.

    While midway the book looses some momentum, it again gains momentum when Dr. Mate addresses the value of (1) decriminalizing drugs (not to be confused with legalizing drugs) and (2) controlling the dispensation of drugs.He shows the reader how substance dependent adults can be spared extreme misery, death and disease by harm reduction measures such as methadone treatment, needle exchange programs, and supervised injection sites.

    Altogether this book is an eye-opener!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2012

    Great book - highly recommended

    Dr. Mate knows addiction very well, and has laid out the causes and manifestations simply and elegantly with real-life examples. He understands addiction is a behavior some people struggle with a great deal, whether to drugs, sex, or just about anything. Wonderful read - starts you thinking about yourself even if you never thought you had an addiction.

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    Posted February 27, 2013

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    Posted May 22, 2011

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    Posted November 15, 2011

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