How to Heal Addictions with Mindfulness–In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Post 4)

Hello again, and thanks for joining me as we read and discuss Gabor Mate‘s book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” Last time we talked about the hallmarks of all addictions.

InTheRealmOfHungryGhosts_coverThis post will explore the factors that tend to set a person on the path to addiction. Mate writes that there are three: a susceptible organism, a drug with addictive potential, and stress. Reading those predisposing factors made me think. It seems like these factors interrelate and influence each other, but one stands out as the dominant force. Research suggests that the susceptibility seems more tightly linked to early childhood stressors than with a drug’s addictive potential. Mice raised in a nurturing environment resist self-administration of cocaine and heroin as adults. Conversely, mice raised in a stressful environment and with little parental nurturing do tend to self-administer these drugs.

Additionally, so much emphasis has been placed on genetic predisposition as a causative factor for addiction. But the evidence just doesn’t bear this out either. Genes make proteins; they don’t determine behavior. The science of epigenetics tells us that emotional experiences change our internal biochemistry, and those biochemical changes then turn genes on and off.

So is addiction in the genes or the drugs? Or, is it more related to environmental stress? Seems like it’s the stress. The way I read it, stress creates an addictive susceptibility. Sure, once genes are turned on they can intensify craving. In such a case, and in a person who’s suffering, an addictive drug then feels like medicine for the pain. This reinforcing feedback also explains why addictions are not isolated to drugs. People get addicted to food, sex, gambling, and many other substances and behaviors. People use or act out in a misguided attempt to feel better. Which brings us back to a premise Mate articulated earlier in his book: pain or hurt forms the backdrop to all addictions.

Thanks for joining us for this discussion. Your questions or comments are welcome. Also, if you find these posts helpful, please share them with your network. Next time we’ll explore how early childhood stress affects the developing brain.

Best to you,


2 thoughts on “How to Heal Addictions with Mindfulness–In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Post 4)”

  1. Dear Ruth,

    Thanks for commenting. As Gabor Mate puts it most adequately, “addictions are substitutes for love.” He is correct also when he says that behind every addiction is a pain.

    Keep commenting. I appreciate you!


  2. I would have to agree with you about stress being the main factor. It is also often a precursor to mental illness. Drugs or other addictions seem to be forms of self medication to alleviate the pain of overwhelming stress.


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