Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned addictions expert and best-selling author firmly believes that there is no such thing as an addictive personality. Nor, does he does think of addiction as a disease. Instead, Maté believes that addiction is deep-rooted, and stems from an individual’s need to solve a problem— typically from their earlier years. Oftentimes, these problems are related to trauma or loss.
For Maté, the question of ‘what’ drug an individual uses is therefore irrelevant. In other words, the drug in which an individual chooses to use has little to do with their addiction. Rather, the important question is how the drug makes a person feel. He told The Guardian that he believes that the things we crave (e.g., drugs) help us to escape emotional pain– providing peace of mind, a sense of control, and happiness. Although detrimental in the long run, addictive behaviour can provide short term solace. Dr. Maté states, “the primary drive is to regulate your situation to something more bearable.” Therefore, we do not have brains that are wired for addiction. Instead, they are set up for happiness. If our happiness is under attack by the unresolved traumas of our past, we then resort to addictive behaviour to restore the happiness that we yearn.
Dr. Maté has experienced both childhood trauma and addiction himself. He became a workaholic as a physician. He lived with ADHD and depression until his mid to late forties. Eventually, he began to dig deeper to uncover the root cause of his troubles. Dr. Maté was born in Budapest in 1944. Two months later, the Nazis occupied Hungary. His mother took him to a physician because he would not stop crying and the physician proclaimed that “all Jewish babies are crying.” Maté explains that this is because the child experiences what the parent experiences. Mothers were terrified, and babies were suffering. However, unlike their mothers, babies were not able to understand what the suffering was about.
Out of fear for his survival, Maté’s mother left him with a stranger as the Nazi occupation increased. He claims that this left him with a lifelong sense of loss and abandonment which affected his mental health. In turn, it impacted his own experience as a parent and his marriage. He overloaded himself with work to escape from the trauma, consequently neglecting his family.
Dr. Maté admits that it was not easy to surface the trauma. In fact, it was incredibly difficult. He recalls, “the problems for me showed up in the dichotomy between my success as a physician and my miseries as a husband and a father. There was a big gap between them, and it’s taken me a long time to work through what I needed to work through.” He recites Oscar Wilde: “pain is the path to perfection.” Indeed, fifty years later, Maté’s marriage is happier than ever.
Maté explains that self-awareness is the key. He asserts that we can address trauma and childhood issues that lure us towards addiction when we ‘wake up’ and become self-aware. Albeit, this process will certainly involve pain. Maté says the same self-awareness needs to happen in society to examine what has gone wrong in our collective psyche. Ultimately, this will correct the world’s current political mayhem and chaos.
Dr. Maté favours the idea of drug decriminalization, such like that in Portugal. In 2001, the country no longer made it illegal to possess small amounts of drugs like heroin or cocaine. Maté points to the fact that the country has seen a signification reduction of drug use, crime related to drugs, and more people seeking treatment for their addiction. To him, fundamentally, it is not the drugs being decriminalized. Instead, it is the people who are taking them. He confirms that this is a logical approach because addicts are victims of trauma, and never only bad or dangerous people.
Like any philosophical ideolog that suggests some sort of psychoanalysis or exploration of retrospective experiences, there is a proclivity to blame the parents. However, Dr Maté says that blame is not answer. “Virtually all parents do their best, and the deepest love they have is for their child.” In fact, Maté claims that one of the most rewarding aspects of his career is when a parent who has lost their child to an overdose approaches him and tells him that his book had helped them understand why it happened. Further, he is especially elated when readers tell him that his work humanizes addicts. His response: “addicts are human. The only question is, why has it taken us so long to realize that?”