Thursday, February 04, 2010

Do we punish people for being abused in North America today?

I am overwhelmed by the all-importanced of the content the Democracy Now interview yesterday, entitled “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”: Dr. Gabor Maté, Physician at Vancouver Safe-Injection Site, on the Biological and Socio-Economic Roots of Addiction and ADD"

As I had written up some information on Attention Defictit Disorder (ADD) in Central Europe and North America some weeks ago, I want to share some of what he shared on attention deficit, i.e. the nurturing causation. The doctor shares his own story growing up in Nazi occupied Hungary.

The following can be viewed on this website:

The bestselling author of four books, we speak to Dr. Maté about his latest, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, which proposes new approaches to treating addiction through an understanding of its biological and socio-economic roots. Maté also discusses his work on attention deficit disorder and the mind-body connection. . . . .

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very—there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

And by the way, according to many studies, the easiest place to get drugs is in prisons—and in schools, by the way. These are the two areas where you can get drugs in North America: the schools and the prisons. So that it makes no sense from any point of view. It serves some people, perhaps, with entrenched interests, but it does not serve the addict, nor does it serve society.

And I could tell you something else about that. A patient of mine with a $50 cocaine habit a day, which is not excessive, how does he raise money to be able to afford those drugs? By shoplifting. To reach $50 a day, he has to shoplift $500 worth of goods. Who pays for that? The social cost is way beyond the cost of law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t there an attempt to shut down the clinic that you have in Vancouver by the federal government in Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the federal government we have in Canada right now, the Harper government, is—got its stuck head very much in the sands of Bush-era attitudes. And they never liked the idea of a supervised injection site, and they’ve tried to shut it down, and twice now, in the Supreme Court of British Columbia and in appeal court. Their attempt has been defeated, because the courts have ruled that this is a necessary medical service which the government does not have the right to withdraw. And, of course, twenty-four international studies have attested to that, but the government ignores the medical information.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re headed back to Vancouver, where the Olympics are beginning next week.


AMY GOODMAN: What is the effect of the Olympics on the community, especially when it comes to social services?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, in the Downtown Eastside, there’s a real fear, because the last time there was a big international event in Vancouver, which was Expo, the police simply took street people off the streets and shipped them out of Vancouver. They put them on buses. Now, nobody’s clear that that’s going to happen this time, and probably not, because the political organization amongst people in the Downtown Eastside is much stronger now.

But certainly, I live in an area of the world where we’re building highways now so that rich people can see skiing events, whereas social services are being cut. There’s a danger of teachers being let go because of the typical North America-wide economic squeeze. And drug programs in northern British Columbia that serve aboriginal youth have been cut now because of budgetary constraints. At the same time, we’re building skating rinks. So it’s usually the people at the very bottom who pay the price for the people who are well-to-do to have a good time.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m curious about your own history, Gabor Maté.


DR. GABOR MATÉ: You’ve written a number of bestselling books. We won’t get to talk about them all. I’m very interested in your one on how attention deficit disorder originates and what you can do about it. But about your own history, you were born in Nazi-occupied Hungary?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, ADD has a lot to do with that. I have attention deficit disorder myself. And again, most people see it as a genetic problem. I don’t. It actually has to do with those factors of brain development, which in my case occurred as a Jewish infant under Nazi occupation in the ghetto of Budapest. And the day after the pediatrician—sorry, the day after the Nazis marched into Budapest in March of 1944, my mother called the pediatrician and says, “Would you please come and see my son, because he’s crying all the time?” And the pediatrician says, “Of course I’ll come. But I should tell you, all my Jewish babies are crying.” Now infants don’t know anything about Nazis and genocide or war or Hitler. They’re picking up on the stresses of their parents. And, of course, my mother was an intensely stressed person, her husband being away in forced labor, her parents shortly thereafter being departed and killed in Auschwitz. Under those conditions, I don’t have the kind of conditions that I need for the proper development of my brain circuits. And particularly, how does an infant deal with that much stress? By tuning it out. That’s the only way the brain can deal with it. And when you do that, that becomes programmed into the brain.

And so, if you look at the preponderance of ADD in North America now and the three millions of kids in the States that are on stimulant medication and the half-a-million who are on anti-psychotics, what they’re really exhibiting is the effects of extreme stress, increasing stress in our society, on the parenting environment. Not bad parenting. Extremely stressed parenting, because of social and economic conditions. And that’s why we’re seeing such a preponderance.

So, in my case, that also set up this sense of never being soothed, of never having enough, because I was a starving infant. And that means, all my life, I have this propensity to soothe myself. How do I do that? Well, one way is to work a lot and to gets lots of admiration and lots of respect and people wanting me. If you get the impression early in life that the world doesn’t want you, then you’re going to make yourself wanted and indispensable. And people do that through work. I did it through being a medical doctor. I also have this propensity to soothe myself through shopping, especially when I’m stressed, and I happen to shop for classical compact music. But it goes back to this insatiable need of the infant who is not soothed, and they have to develop, or their brain develop, these self-soothing strategies.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think kids with ADD, with attention deficit disorder, should be treated?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, if we recognize that it’s not a disease and it’s not genetic, but it’s a problem of brain development, and knowing the good news, fortunately—and this is also true for addicts—that the brain, the human brain, can develop new circuits even later on in life—and that’s called neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to be molded by new experience later in life—then the question becomes not of how to regulate and control symptoms, but how do you promote development. And that has to do with providing kids with the kind of environment and nurturing that they need so that those circuits can develop later on.

That’s also, by the way, what the addict needs. So instead of a punitive approach, we need to have a much more compassionate, caring approach that would allow these people to develop, because the development is stuck at a very early age.

AMY GOODMAN: You began your talk last night at Columbia, which I went to hear, at the law school, with a quote, and I’d like you to end our conversation with that quote.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Would that be the quote that only in the presence of compassion will people allow themselves—


DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, oh, no, yeah, Naguib Mahfouz, the great Egyptian writer. He said that “Nothing records the effects of a sad life” so completely as the human body—“so graphically as the human body.” And you see that sad life in the faces and bodies of my patients.

Let’s discuss and debate these points, readers!



Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

Here is the earlier article link:
DEUTSCHLAND: Aufmerksamkeitsstörung & ERWACHSENE

in English
Translation into English of Kevin Stoda’s article and sharing on ADD or ADHD in Adults

1:10 PM  

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