How to Heal Addictions with Mindfulness–In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Post 3)

Hi. Welcome back. Thanks for joining me as we read and discuss Gabor Mate’s book on addiction, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” Today, we’re going to explore Part II. In this section of his book, Mate explains how addiction creates biological and psychological feedback loops that are self-reinforcing.

First, however, let’s discuss what are the agreed upon hallmarks of addiction, both substance related and not. First, the standard view of addiction is any habitual pattern in which a person feels compelled to repeat despite its negative impact on himself or others. Therefore, addiction involves:

1. an obsessive preoccupation and compulsive engagement with a substance or activity

2. impaired self-control over the use of a substance, or engagement in a behavior

3. continued use of the substance or engagement in the behavior despite evidence of harm

4. a sense of dissatisfaction, irritability, or intense craving when not using the substance, or engaging in the behavior

Dr. Mark PirtleAs Mate writes, ‘these are the hallmarks of addiction, all addictions.’ Mate goes on to explain that addiction involves the same brain circuits, whether the addiction is chemical or behavioral. Therefore, addictions do alter brain physiology.

This is the feedback loop that I was alluding to, where the biology (brain circuits and chemicals) affect the psychology (thoughts and motivations). That explains why it’s so difficult to define addiction from one perspective, biological or psychological. We cannot place addiction in any one of those boxes; it’s more complex than just biology, or just psychology. A larger perspective is necessary to understand it. Without that larger understanding, treatment will necessarily be insufficient.

Mate goes on the write that at the ‘heart of addiction is a dependency, excessive dependency, an unhealthy dependency–unhealthy in the sense of unwhole, a dependency that disintegrates and destroys.” Such a dependency is akin to what I call “attentional fixation.”

In my next post, we’ll explore the factors that predispose a person to addiction. If you find these posts enlightening, please feel free to share them with your social networks.

Wishing you well,

Mark