Humans have always used drugs, but current level of drug abuse could indicate a bigger problem that we’re driving people into addiction. What’s the connection between the increase in chronic diseases, mental illness and drug addiction in our society today? On this edition, Dr. Gabor Maté talks about the relationship between mind and body health – and what the rise of capitalism has done to destroy both.
May 31, 2013 update from Dr. Gabor Maté: “Contrary to what I say here, Afro-American males do not have a six-fold increase in the risk of dying of prostate cancer. What is so, is that they do have double the risk of having the disease as compared with Caucasians and, if they have prostate cancer, they have a worse prognosis for surviving it. I stand by the my point that this increased prevalence and death risk is due to stress, including the stress of racism and a legacy of economic and political marginalization.”
Script – see below
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Dr. Gabor Maté: It’s very Interesting to look at the United States from the outside, of course, because your politicians are always saying what a great, the greatest country in the world, they all want to be like us, you know? And I want to ask you this question, psychological question. . .
If you met some guy who kept telling you how great he was, and everyone wants to be like him, how would you diagnose him? He’s got a grandiose personality disorder. In other words, what he is actually doing is compensating for his deep insecurity. So that, this is a country that in its very rhetoric betrays extraordinary insecurity ….
I grew up in communist Hungary, where the joke of course was: What is capitalism? Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, and what is communism? It’s opposite *laughs*. I grew up in a system that spoke the language of socialism, that spoke the language of struggle, of anti-imperialism, of equality and justice, but in it’s actual functioning was just the very opposite. And then I came to North America, after the Hungarian Revolution, which is really uprising against a very brutal dictatorship and bought into the American idea. That lasted for exactly 4 years. Between 1957 and the early 60’s, when the Vietnam War started. And what became very clear to me that everything the Soviets said of the Americans were true, and everything they said about themselves were a total pack of lies.
The powers that be are oppressive and unjust is just how it is and it doesn’t matter in what guise . . . This is, by the way, not an anti-communist rant; I may be one of the only two Marxists I know who came out of Eastern Europe. The reason I say that is when they beat you over the head in the name of a certain system, you’re not going to be going for that system very much. And what I’ve actually come to understand that is really important for people to search for the truth themselves, and not to automatically identify with any particular system, because as soon as you start to identify, as soon you try to find the answer aside yourself, you may surrender your critical faculties, so if we hold onto our critical faculties and look at the truth, what do we see?
In this society what we see is a society that literally makes people sick. Because 50 percent of north american adults have a chronic illness, either diabetes, or high blood pressure, or heart disease, or cancer, or any number of auto-immune illnesses. now, according to the strict medical model, that is too bad, these people are just unfortunate, because what the medical model does, whether with mental illness or physical illness, it makes two separations, it separates the mind from the body, so that what happens emotionally is not seen to have an impact on our physical health.
Number one, and number two it separates individuals from their environment. So that we try to understand individuals in separation from their actual lives. So that if somebody has cancer, well that is just their bad luck, or maybe because they smoke too many cigarettes. Which leaves us completely bereft of understanding what causes most of disease and what they’re betraying there is the complete poverty of understanding of what makes the human brain tick, and what creates a human being, and what causes people to behave and to function and feel the way they actually do.
Now, those separations are socially imposed, they’re culturally defined and scientifically they are completely invalid. Cause the truth of it is that the traditional teachings of shamanic medicinal cultures around the world, and of traditional Chinese medicine, or Ayurvedic Indian medicine, that mind and body are inseparable, have not been validated by modern science. So my profession, although it claims to ground itself in Science, and what they call evidence based practice, I only wish, I only wish they looked at the actual evidence. I only wished they would ask themselves why is it that [in] the United States an Afro-American male has six-times the risk of dying of prostate cancer than a caucasian.
’Well it’s got to be genetic’, no it isn’t, because their genetic relatives in Africa don’t suffer the same risk at all. So why is it that in this society, why are black women, even middle-class black women, more likely to suffer miscarriages in this country? Well that is not a genetic question, it’s a social question. There is something going on here.
If you look at something like the rate of autism in this country, or industrial society, particularly in North America, has gone up 40 fold in the last 50 years, or is it 30 fold in the last 30 years. Well, you know you can’t be dealing with a genetic effect because genes don’t change in a population over 30 years, or even 500 years. There is gotta be something going on in society that is driving the emotional ill-health of children. And furthermore if you look at addictions, there is a couple of myths associated with it. One of them is that it’s a choice that people make, and the criminal justice system, which I think is a very apt way of putting it, is a criminal system.
The justice system is criminal. It’s based on the very idea that people are making choices when they become addicts. If they are not making choices, why punish them for it? And the other idea is that it is genetics. And a third idea, of course, is that drugs are addictive, which is inherently nonsense. Because if it was true then anybody who tried a drug should become addicted. But most people who try most drugs don’t become addicted. most people who try cigarettes don’t become nicotine addicts. Most people who have a drink don’t become alcoholics.
Most people who try heroin, crystal meth, cocaine, don’t become addicts. The real question is, why are the drugs addictive to certain people? What creates a susceptibility? What makes them vulnerable? When the American army came back from Vietnam 20 percent of the GIs were addicted to heroin. A few years later one percent was. There was a 95 percent curate, if you wish. Now if in my work with drug addicted clients in Downtown-east side of Vancouver, I had a 6 percent curate with 16 percent curate I’d be recognized as an international genius because the curates are really low. How come 95 percent of these GIs? If the drugs are addictive in themselves. Well maybe we have to look at their lives and maybe you have to look at the circumstances under which they became addicted. Furthermore, if you look at the aboriginal population of North America; these people actually had potentially addictive substances available to them.
Not only were they available, they used them. There was of course tobacco, but there was no addiction. If the substances in themselves had been addictive, and if these people are genetically predisposed, either or, they should have been addicted. But there was no history of addiction prior to the coming of the caucasians. As a matter of fact, the natives used these plants, but what did they use them for? They used them in spiritual ways. In other words they used them to elevate their level of consciousness, whereas the very essence of addiction is to obstruct your level of consciousness, because you don’t want to be aware. So, addiction is an escape from awareness whereas the spiritual use of these substances is the enhancement of awareness.
Now if choice and genetics don’t explain it, all we have to do is look at history. We’d have to actually ask what happened to the native people in this part of the world that drove them into addiction? Now alcohol has been known in the Western world for thousands of years, and there was plenty of drunkenness, even in ancient times, but there is no alcoholism for the most part. Alcoholism came around in the 18th century with the rise of capitalism. You can make a very good case that one of the medical outcomes or one of the health outcomes of capitalism is addiction. In other words, can you understand people in isolation from the system in which they live. Well the answer is that you can’t.
First of all, because the biology of humans beings is shaped by the psychological and social environment in which they live. I can give you one example. Asthma. It’s well known now, not controversial, that children whose parents are stressed, are more likely to have asthma. Now, ask the average physician what’s the connection, they’d have no idea. And yet, if you ask the physician how do you treat the asthma, you know how they treat the asthma, with stress hormones — with adrenaline and cortisol, or copies of it; this is how you treat asthma. I’m not going to go into the reasons why, but shouldn’t the very fact that we are treating this condition with stress hormones cause us to ask if stress has something to do with it?
So in a polluted area where children are more likely to have asthma, is the children of stressed parents much more likely to have asthma? Simply because the emotional levels of stress in the parents disorganize the stress response mechanisms of the child. And when women are stressed during pregnancy, their children have abnormal stress hormone levels more likely to use addictive substances to soothe their stresses. That’s because the emotional state of their parents have something to do with the physiology of the child. That’s just how it works, because you can’t separate the mind from the body and you can’t separate the individual from the environment.
Now, if you look at the parameters of stress, what it is that stresses people? The research shows that what is the most stressful in people is the uncertainty, lack of information, loss of control, and lack of opportunity to express yourself. When Karl Marx talked about freedom, he talked about freedom in three sense of the word. Freedom, for him, was, number one, freedom from economic necessities, freedom from the threat to life, freedom from interference of other people, and the freedom to express yourself — to be yourself. That’s freedom. Now what freedom is there in this “free society”, you know, in the free world, the free-est society in history. What freedom is there when people are not free of economic worry, where there is tremendous uncertainty and fear lack of control. When people lack control over their lives, they have no freedom. And they’re physiologically stressed. And when they’re physiologically stressed, that’s going to manifest in the form of illness.
So if you look at the California based studies called the adverse childhood experience studies, looked at 18,00 people, 80 percent Caucasian, 10 Hispanic, 10 Afro-American they looked at what happened to them in childhood and what the adult outcomes were. And an adverse childhood experience as something like physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, the loss of a parent due to a death, being jailed, or rancorous divorce, violence in the family, addiction in the family; for each of these adverse childhood experiences the risk of addiction went up by 2 to 4 fold. So, by the time a male child had had 6 of these experiences his risk of becoming an injection using substance addict was 4600 greater than that of a male child that had had no such experiences. So the risk of mental illness goes up exponentially, the risk of physical illness, like autoimmune disease goes up exponentially, and in Canadian studies it has been shown when children are abused in childhood their cancer risk goes up by nearly 50 percent. Why? Because you can’t separate the mind from the body and you can’t separate the individuals from the psycho-social environment.
But if you understand human beings, in their psycho-social context, what do we see? We see that stress is not just an abstract psycho social event. It has physiological correlates. So when you’re stressed, your whole body, homeostasis, or the internal balance, is perturbed and fundamentally you have disturbances in the nervous system, increase in heart-rate, blood pressure, and in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which play their job in helping you escape, or to fight back in the face of an acute threat, but if you’re chronically stressed they actually create stress, thin your bones, suppress your immune system, give you heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes– a whole range of heart conditions.
Dr. Mate: No when it comes to addiction, specifically, in the Downtown-East side of Vancouver I never had a single female patient who had not been sexually abused as a child. And as, were many of the men, and so it’s always, the heart of addiction is always emotional loss. And the obvious ones were those losses incurred by those adverse childhood experiences identified in this California study. But there is another side to it as well, because if you look at what is happening with this burgeoning number of children being diagnosed with this or that disorder — not all of them were abused, many of them were not, but what is going on? Well as D.W. Winnicott, the great British child psychiatrist pointed out, there’s two things that can go wrong in childhood.
First of all, when things go, things happen that shouldn’t happen, and that’s the abuse and the trauma, and secondly when things don’t happen that should happen and that’s the presence of non stressed, non depressed, emotionally attuned available caregivers. That’s not available in a country with average maternity leave with six and a half weeks. That’s not available where kids spend most of the time away from the nurturing adults in their lives and in company of other kids. So that they are forced to look to each other as their attachment figures. The desperation of the kids to always connect.
The sense of disorientation of they feel when they can’t connect with their friends by some electronic means. Its not a technology problem its an attachment problem. Those kids have been disconnected from the adults in their lives because the adults can’t be for them. They can’t be they are too stressed. There was a study few weeks ago that showed that stressed parents and not unloving parents but stressed parents simply are not as emotionally attuned to the emotional cues of their kids as they would like to be.
And that’s was Psychologist formerly at UCLA Alan Schore calls ‘proximal separation.’ Proximal Separation is when a parent is physically there but emotionally unavailable because they are too stressed and too distracted. And that’s what my children experienced when they were small because I was a workaholic physician. And this society rewards workaholism. They tell you what a great you are. They reward you for things that undermine the health of your family. And for a lot of people its not even a question of a choice. When under the … and … Bill Clinton, the welfare laws were changed so that mothers could have only a number of years and have off and didn’t have to go to work. Where exactly does a single mother often have to go to work ? Usually to a low paying job far away from home. And, all that time that she is working and all that time that she is commuting her child is at a daycare, inadequately staffed. With under-trained personnel. Who does that kid get connected to then. The other kids. And the children become each others connection ….
And that means for the first time in history you have large numbers of kids immature creatures getting them modelling and their cue giving and their sense of direction and the sense of value on how to talk and how to walk from other immature creatures. But what do you expect from that culture but all kinds of dysfunction. And again that is not the choice that individual parents have made that’s just another way in which this system has undermined the necessary conditions for child development.
A study out of Notre Dame University, last year, showed that the healthiest environment for child rearing is the hunter gatherer society, hunter gatherer village. And Why? Because in the HG village three things that happen to the kids that does not happen in our culture anymore for many many kids. Number one, the kids are always with their parents. Well, That’s not possible in this country. Civilized countries actually have a paternity leave, never mind the six weeks maternity leave.
When ?? arrived in North America they were appalled at the parenting practices of the natives you know why because the natives did not beat their kids and to the Christians this meant ?? the rod and spoiling the child. So that’s the first thing and the second thing is when the kids cry they picked up.Imagine picking up a kid when he is crying. We tell people when the kid is five or six months old we tell don’t pick up you want them to become independent . We are missing a point. The way to promote independence is to invite dependence. Because people go independent when they feel secure in the world. So you promote independence by inviting dependence.
So in that bourgeois cultures they picked up kids when they cried which meant a child’s brain don’t become overrun the brain by stress hormone. If the kids brain is overrun by the stress hormones. When child’s brains becomes overruns with stress hormones it impacts the child development because the brain develops an interaction with the environment. So, even if you don’t abuse the kids in this country but if you just follow the parenting practices recommended by so called experts you are going to screw up your kids tremendously.
And the third quality of the hunter gatherer society is that the children are brought up in the context of nurturing adults by not just parents, not just the father, not just the mother but that clan, tribe, community and the neighborhood that I was talking before. So any system that destroys those conditions that stresses the parents. See if everything is genetic we don’t have to asked what happened to black people in this country. And what are stresses on the black males that trigger their prostate cancer. We have to look at the native people that triggers addiction or to … many to other people native, black, caucasians or whoever.
Its all in the genes the explanation the way things are that does not threaten the way things are. Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the free-est and most prosperous nation on earth? It can’t be in system there is must be something wrong with the wiring.
And finally let me read some quote from another chapter of my books on addiction…
It is beyond horrible to listen to the In the graphic videos and soundtracks of the movie. They are not screaming but just accepting the pictures they have dead eyes. You can tell that their spirit is broken.That’s their life. Why dead eyes? Dead eyes because the child can’t escape, fight back or seek help. The only way that they can possible ?? the trauma is by shutdown of the emotion and pain.
In this society we have massive emotional shutdown. And you can see it in the increasing violence in the culture. Increased violence in media culture. That gory movies have to be more and more gory. Sports have to be more violent. People have to beat themselves to each other to a … on television. Because we are so emotionally shut down that it takes more and more to titillate us and the sex has to be objectified and more and more salacious really because what used to excite people decades ago is no longer sufficient. Why? Because what we are shutting down and why we are shutting down because we are hurt so much. Because the more we shut down the more we need to external sources of stimulation to feel at all.
In the case of abused child the shutdown is obvious. But, the second point is that if the same cop instead of quitting the force had he transferred to the drug squad according to all the research who do you think he would have caught? Those kids he did not rescue because according to all the research and brain development data they are the ones which are drug addicts because they are the ones who are in so much pain that they want to sooth themselves with drugs.
If we take people who abuse to start with and we make them into our social enemy. And they are the ones who are our ?? population. So we try and rescue them and if we fail to rescue them we persecute them for their rest of the lives. And that we are doing with war on drugs. There is no war on drugs because you cannot have a war against inanimate objects. There is only war on drug addicts. Which means we are warring on the most abused and vulnerable segments of the population. You can see left and right of the war on drugs and you can see it is not working.
But you know what, I have a different point of view. If decade after decade, after decade, after decade, if the intentions of the policies are not being realized; in fact the opposite is what it is happening … may be its serving some purpose a maintaining a rational the raison d’etre of repressive apparatus that can be used against the people when the need arises. Is it really a failure or maybe it has a function of demonizing a certain section of population that justifies more repression.? May be it has a function of keeping the legal apparatus going, may it has a function of making a money for a lot of people, may be it has a function of fueling the privatized to incarceration industry.
So may be after all it is not a failure at all. And from that perspective was the Vietnam War? No not all. It was militarily. But, the end result was that US took control of the economies of the South East Asia. Is the Iraq War a failure? Well, it is for the people who died there, for a half a million Iraqis who died it is but it is not a failure for american oil companies. So that everywhere we have to be careful before we call them a failures. Somebody wins. Somebody who wins are the same people who destroy -neighborhoods, communities. It is the same system that undermines human health, that undermines dignity, that undermines human connections that really makes life less tolerable on this planet. Now, we don’t have to agree on what the solutions might be. And that’s okay. But what do we agree on is the importance of speaking for truth, but what we do agree is on importance of people getting together and struggling in a healthy way for different life. Because if its the loss of control, and the isolation and the suppression of self expression that are the greatest cause for stress then surely one to has to distress the culture and get together express yourself and not to be silent and to connect with human beings.
As Joy Hill said don’t mourn- organise. Thank you very much.