"In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" by Gabor Maté

Review by Borodutch

I think I'm done with sad books for now. Even though I always advocated against the dehumanization of drug-addicted people, I never thought how deep the issue went into people's brains. Gabor has described the underlying physiological processes leading to addiction and put a human face to it.

Reading through the stories of addicted people from the DTES area of Vancouver is heartbreaking. Simply thinking that this happened (and still happens to the day) a dozen or so blocks away from where I live is unimaginable. A few things that I noted during my experience with the book:

  1. Addiction often has its roots in deep childhood trauma (especially when it happens during the first developmental stages of a child)
  2. Addiction runs in families (if mothers are addicts at DTES, chances are that their children will follow suit; not because it's hereditary, but because of the traumatizing environment)
  3. Most people are incapable of combatting addiction even when their children's lives and well-being depend on it
  4. We don't deny medical services to people who got cancer due to smoking (clearly a self-inflicted condition), yet people, for some reason, think that it's ok to deny services to drug-addicts
  5. Safe injection sites significantly increase the survivorship of addicted people yet don't raise the addiction levels or number of people addicted, contrary to some people's logic

Overall, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to advocate for the dehumanization of drug-addicted people and against it. Both sides of the debate can get helpful insights from the work of Dr. Maté. After reading the book, I have a peculiar aftertaste — the situation is utterly depressing, and it seems we aren't improving it. The author wrote the book in 2007, and 16 years later, the problem only seems to worsen.

Hopefully, we'll overcome the addiction crisis humanely. So far, the best thing we can do is to educate people around us about addiction and people suffering from it. After all, having gone through a similar set of events to what the residents of DTES have experienced, most of us would probably also end up helplessly addicted.

We are all humans. And humans need help.