Why This Doctor Believes Addictions Start In Childhood.
Huffpost Science (01/26/2016)
by Carolyn Gregoire
The above article by Carolyn Gregoire—Senior Health & Science Writer at the Huffington Post—caught my eye. Gregoire’s article profiles the work of Canadian physician Gabor Maté. According to Gregoire, Maté, writing in his 2010 book entitled In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Encounters with Addiction, puts forth the idea that “the root of addictive behaviors can be traced all the way back to childhood” (quoting Gregoire). Upon reading this, I immediately reflected back on my blog series wherein I summarized the 2014 edited volume entitled Addictions from an Attachment Perspective—Do Broken Bonds and Early Trauma Lead to Addictive Behaviours? The main message delivered in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective is as follows: there is a correlation between early insecure attachment and later addictive behavior. It would seem that Maté’s position agrees with the position presented in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective.
I went back to my Kindle copy of Addictions from an Attachment Perspective and ran a search on Maté’s name. No hits. On the surface it would appear that there’s no connection between the work of the authors presented in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective and Maté’s work in the area of addiction. So, I ordered up a copy of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. My plan is to see how well these two bodies of work link up. From Gregoire’s article, here are a few bullet points about Maté’s work that seem to agree with the work presented in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective. (All quotes are by Maté made during a Q&A session with Gregoire.):
- The addictive process can take many forms: “Addiction could be substance-related—alcohol, cigarettes, heroin or cocaine—but it could also be sex, gambling, eating, shopping, work, extreme sports, relationships, the Internet.” All of these various forms of addiction were looked at in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective with the exception of extreme sports.
- “The single factor that’s at the core of all addictions is trauma. By trauma I mean emotional loss in childhood….” Bowlby’s theory of attachment is centrally about emotional loss in childhood. Although Maté does not mention attachment by name, I’m assuming that when he talks about emotional loss, he’s including the loss associated with an early history of insecure attachment.
- “[A]dverse childhood experiences have been shown to exponentially increase the risk of addiction later in life.” Again, this agrees with the position put forth in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective.
- “A child has certain fundamental needs [i.e., a need for a safe and secure attachment relationship] for emotional development and also for brain development.” This agrees with the information coming out of the areas of attachment and emotion regulation (see the work of Allan Schore) and attachment and brain development (see the work of Daniel Siegel).
- Here’s Maté’s “bottom line”: “So whether we’re looking at the psychological side of addiction, which is needing to escape from pain and stress, or the brain physiology side, which is the underdeveloped reward circuits in the brain, we’re looking at the impact of childhood.”
Now, allow me to end by mentioning how Maté approaches treatment of addictions (which is a bit controversial): he uses ayahuasca—“a hallucinogenic brew made from the bark of an Amazonian rain forest tree, which early research has shown could hold promise for treating addiction, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder” (quoting Gregoire). Gregoire points out that ayahuasca is a controlled substance and, as a result, Dr. Maté has been ordered to not use ayahuasca. For more on Maté’s thoughts concerning the use of hallucinogenic substances to treat addiction, see Gregoire’s article.
So, once I’ve had a chance to read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Encounters with Addiction,  I’ll put together a blog post or two outlining Maté’s work in the area of addiction, and how his work (hopefully) ties to the work presented in Addictions from an Attachment Perspective. In this way I’m hoping that Maté’s work will shed further light on the correlation between early insecure attachment and later addictive behavior. As they say, stay tuned. If you have read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, feel free to leave a comment concerning your thoughts.
 I’m currently reading David Wooten’s 2016 book entitled The Invention of Science. Wooten’s book weighs in at over 700 pages, so it may be a bit before I can get to Maté’s book. Did you know that during the time of Copernicus (1473–1543), one of the models of the earth being floated around (no pun intended) included a water sphere (the oceans) that held an earth sphere (the dry lands). In school we’re told that before Copernicus, people believed that the earth was flat. Well, turns out that there were several models that bridged between flat earth models and round earth models. The “sphere in sphere” model was but one. I did not know this….