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A “thought-provoking and powerful” study that reframes everything you’ve been taught about addiction and recovery—from the New York Times–bestselling author of The Myth of Normal (Bruce Perry, author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog).
A world-renowned trauma expert combines real-life stories with cutting-edge research to offer a holistic approach to understanding addiction—its origins, its place in society, and the importance of self-compassion in recovery.
Based on Gabor Maté’s two decades of experience as a medical doctor and his groundbreaking work with people with addiction on Vancouver’s skid row, this #1 international bestseller radically re-envisions a much misunderstood condition by taking a compassionate approach to substance abuse and addiction recovery.
In the same vein as Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts traces the root causes of addiction to childhood trauma and examines the pervasiveness of addiction in society. Dr. Maté presents addiction not as a discrete phenomenon confined to an unfortunate or weak-willed few, but as a continuum that runs throughout—and perhaps underpins—our society. It is not a medical “condition” distinct from the lives it affects but rather the result of a complex interplay among personal history, emotional and neurological development, brain chemistry, and the drugs and behaviors of addiction.
Simplifying a wide array of brain and addiction research findings from around the globe, the book avoids glib self-help remedies, instead promoting a thorough and compassionate self-understanding as the first key to healing and wellness.
Dr. Maté argues persuasively against contemporary health, social, and criminal justice policies toward addiction and how they perpetuate the War on Drugs. The mix of personal stories—including the author’s candid discussion of his own “high-status” addictive tendencies—and science with positive solutions makes the book equally useful for lay readers and professionals.
About the Author
Gabor Maté, MD, is a physician, author, seminar leader, and acclaimed public speaker. His bestselling books include Scattered, When the Body Says No, and Hold onto Your Kids. In 2022, he also co-authored The Myth of Normal, the instant New York Times bestseller, with his son, Daniel Maté. A former medical columnist for The Vancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail, Dr. Gabor Maté lives in Vancouver, BC.
Peter A. Levine, PhD, holds doctorates in both medical biophysics and psychology. He developed Somatic Experiencing, a body-awareness approach to trauma treatment, and his bestselling book Waking the Tiger has been translated into 22 languages. His other works include In an Unspoken Voice, Healing Trauma, Trauma and Memory, and Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes. He lives in Encinitas, CA.
“I recommend this wonderful book for anyone struggling with the heartache of addiction personally or professionally. Dr. Maté makes the thought-provoking and powerful arguments that human connections heal; and that the poverty of relationships in the modern world contribute to our vulnerability to unhealthy addictions of all manner. His uniquely humane perspective—all too absent from much of the ‘modern’ approach to addictions—should be a part of the training of all therapists, social workers, and physicians.”
—Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, co-author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog
“A riveting account of human cravings, this book needs to get into as many hands as possible. Maté’s resonant, unflinching analysis of addiction today shatters the assumptions underlying our War on Drugs.”
—Norm Stamper, former Seattle Chief of Police and author of Breaking Rank
“In this brilliant and well-documented book, Gabor Maté locates the source of addictions in the trauma of an emotionally empty childhood, making it a relational rather than a medical problem. Such a radical thesis of cause leads to human connection rather than traditional treatment as the cure. This passionate and compassionate book, filled with scientific evidence and personal narratives, should be on the shelf of every person interested in the pervasive challenge of addiction.”
—Harville Hendrix, PhD, author of Getting the Love You Want and cofounder of Imago Relationship Therapy
“Dr. Maté’s latest book is a moving, debate-provoking, and multi-layered look at how addiction arises, the people afflicted with it and why he supports decriminalization of all drugs, including crystal meth.… [In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts] reads not only as a lively textbook analysis of the physiological and psychological causes of drug addiction, but also as an investigation into his heart and mind.”
—The Globe and Mail
“In this comprehensive and courageous book … Maté relates, with compassion and honesty, the poignant stories of severe substance addicts – the hungry ghosts, in Buddhist-realm terminology – whom he treats. And it is the addicts’ stories and the clear logic of the latest science and statistics that Maté shares which convince the reader that society’s attitudes toward, and treatment of, addiction must change. …. This 480-page tome, exhausting in delineating and substantiating its causes, remains a remarkably lyrical, engaging read.”
—In Recovery Magazine
“It’s time to give Maté … the Order of Canada for this erudite and sensitive book about the lives of Downtown Eastside intravenous-drug users, the neurobiology of addiction, and the folly of the war on drugs. It’s compulsively readable and packed with new scientific discoveries about addiction. If you know the parent or sibling of an addict—or the prime minister, for that matter—please give him this book.”
—The Georgia Straight
“Gabor Maté’s connections—between the intensely personal and the global, the spiritual and the medical, the psychological and the political—are bold, wise and deeply moral. He is a healer to be cherished and this exciting book arrives at just the right time.”
—Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine
“With unparalleled sympathy for the human condition, Gabor Maté depicts the suffocation of the spirit by addictive urges, and holds up a dark mirror to our society. This is a powerful narrative of the realm of human nature where confused and conflicted emotions underlie our pretensions to rational thought.”
—Dr. Jaak Panksepp, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychobiology, Bowling Green University, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Ohio, and author of Affective Neuroscience
“With superb descriptive talents, Gabor Maté takes us into the lives of the emotionally destitute and addicted human beings who are his patients. In this highly readable and penetrating book, he gives us the disturbing truths about the nature of addiction and its roots in people’s early years–truths that are usually concealed by time and protected by shame, secrecy, and social taboo.”
—Vincent Felitti, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, and Co-Principal Investigator, Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
“Dr. Gabor Maté distills the suffering of injection-drug users into moving case histories and reveals how clearly he himself, as a music collector and workaholic physician, fits his own definition of addiction. Informed by the new research on brain chemistry, he proposes sensible drug laws to replace the War on Drugs. Inspired by the evolving spirituality that underlies his life and work, he outlines practical ways of overcoming addiction. This is not a fix-it book to hurry through, but a deep analysis to reflect upon.”
—Dr. Bruce Alexander, Professor Emeritus (Psychology), Simon Fraser University, and author of The Globalization of Addiction
“Maté’s subjects are the living, breathing embodiment of Canada’s grimmest statistics for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, homelessness, crime, abuse, neglect, overdose, and death. More than merely poor and disenfranchised, they are truly the lowest of the low, reviled by society and demonized by law enforcement. [In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts] is enormously compelling and Maté is admirably, sometimes inexplicably, empathetic to all who cross his path.”
“[In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts] shows an unflinching look at addiction… Dr. Maté makes observations that cut through all the myths and misinterpretations about addicts and how they live… There are many nuggets of wisdom and insight throughout the book. Readers can literally pick up the book and leaf to any chapter and begin reading—and learn something valuable. It’s never boring, never condescending, never too much to read.”
—Addiction Treatment Magazine
“[Gabor Maté], a front-line professional combating addiction in Canada, questions the premise that addiction is a choice that people make. If people are diseased or predisposed or making a moral compromises through their own free will, then society is allowed to simplify a complicated issue and avoid any share of the responsibility. For instance, the thesis of this book criticizes the criminal justice’s unscientific assumption that drug addicts are culpable because they choose to do drugs. Does that make sense – people want to, choose to be addicted?”