Science and Technology
Dr. Gabor Maté widely recognized for his views on ADD and drug addiction
Gabor Maté is making a name for himself on many fronts.
Born in Budapest in 1944, shortly before the Nazis occupied the city, Dr. Maté is the staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a residence and resource centre for the people of Vancouver's downtown east side. Many of his patients suffer from mental illness, drug addiction and HIV, or all three.
He has had regular medical columns in The Vancouver Sun and The Globe & Mail and he is the author of a handful of books, including his latest, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, which The Ottawa Citizen recently described as "a harrowingly honest, compassionate, sometimes angry look at addiction and the people whose lives have been disordered by it.’’
Widely recognized for his unique perspective on Attention Deficit Disorder, and his firmly held belief in the connection between mind and body health, he is a sought-after speaker and seminar leader on these topics.
His other books are When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, and Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. Another book, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, was co-authored with developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld.
Dr. Maté emigrated to Canada with his family in 1957 when he was 13. After graduating with a B.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and a few years as a high school English and literature teacher, he returned to school to pursue his childhood dream of being a doctor.
Dr. Maté ran a private family practice in East Vancouver for more than 20 years. He was also the medical co-ordinator of the Palliative Care Unit at Vancouver Hospital for seven years. Currently he is staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a residence and resource centre for people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He serves many mentally ill patients and addicts as well as people with HIV/AIDS.
Much of his new book deals with drug addiction. Addicts are the hungry ghosts of the title, an image drawn from the Mandela, the Buddhist Wheel of Life.
Addictive behaviours are everywhere, Maté pointed out in an interview with The Citizen, while on a cross-Canada media tour.
"People have a hard time recognizing that the nature of addiction pervades this whole society." By marginalizing addiction, by consigning it to the realm of hungry ghosts, people are "protecting themselves from dealing with what's inside themselves," he says.
He knows what fuels addictive behaviour: it's about deadening emotional pain, often imprinted on our brains during the first months of life. To oversimplify outrageously, childhood trauma alters the chemistry of the developing brain, leaving us with heightened vulnerability to addiction.
Maté believes addiction is at the root of the obesity epidemic. It's a problem, he says, "of more and more people needing to soothe pain." We turn to food for solace because the human connections that used to sustain us are breaking down. Human connections are being lost left and right. There's been a massive breakdown of community, of neighbourhood, of extended family, of nuclear family."
Maté is convinced decriminalization of all drugs is the only sensible policy. "I don't think the criminalization of drug use is compatible with real prevention, real treatment and real harm reduction," he says. "I think it exacerbates the problem."
While he wouldn't legalize the manufacture and distribution of drugs, Maté would decriminalize possession for personal use and make drugs of dependence available to confirmed addicts under medical supervision. Once you do that, "that would be the end of drug smuggling, because most of the smuggling and most of the drug crime is based on sales to confirmed addicts."
In an interview with January Magazine (http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/gmate.html) writer Margaret Gunning wrote that Dr. Maté has lived several lives in one.
"He's most decidedly a risk-taker: the best-selling author of a controversial book on attention-deficit disorder called Scattered Minds, Maté is a political activist known for his (even more controversial) views on the Middle East, and a physician/psychotherapist who gave up his family practice several years ago to work with HIV-positive heroin addicts on the Vancouver's downtown east side. Unflinching in the face of criticism, this is a man who will not keep silent about his multiple passions.’’
Gunning says Maté writes with great poignancy about his own childhood:
"I am both a survivor and a child of the Nazi genocide, having lived most of my first year in Budapest under Nazi occupation. My maternal grandparents were killed in Auschwitz when I was five months old; my aunt had also been deported and was unheard-from; and my father was in a forced labour battalion in the service of the German and Hungarian armies. My mother and I barely survived our months in the Budapest ghetto.
"For a few weeks she had to part from me as the only way of saving me from sure death by starvation or disease. No great powers of imagination are required to understand that in her state of mind, and under the inhuman stresses she was facing daily, my mother was rarely up to the tender smiles and undivided attention a developing infant requires to imprint a sense of security and unconditional love in his mind. My mother, in fact, told me that on many days her despair was such that only the need to care for me motivated her to get up from bed. I learned early that I had to work for attention, to burden my mother as little as possible and that my anxiety and pain were best suppressed.’’
When asked if medicine was his first ambition and whether doctoring was in his family, Dr. Maté said his grandfather, the one killed by the Germans, was a doctor.
"I grew up always wanting to be a doctor, and only later on did I think that maybe it was because I wanted to be my mother's father. Maybe I wanted to replace her loss. But obviously, it also was something that was in me anyway. Because I had ADD and didn't know how to study sciences and didn't want to work that hard, I drifted into teaching, because English and literature came much easier to me. But whenever I went in a hospital I always had a sense that I belonged there. So by the time I was 28 I was ready for medical school.’’
More information about Dr. Maté can be found at his Web site: www.drgabormate.com.