Why This Doctor Believes Addictions Start In Childhood

What causes drug addiction? One Canadian physician argues that the problem isn’t the drugs themselves.

Dr. Gabor Maté believes — based on research and his own experience working at harm reduction clinics in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a poor area that has one of the worst drug problems in North America — that the root of addictive behaviors can be traced all the way back to childhood.

“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience,” Maté wrote in his 2010 bestseller, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. “A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden — but it’s there.”

There is increasing interest in the medical field around the potential lifelong health outcomes of adverse childhood experiences. At least one critic of Mate’s work has suggested that an exclusive focus on childhood harms is too limiting, and precludes “a more comprehensive and practicable view of addiction.” A great deal of research supports the link between childhood trauma and substance abuse risk. However, it’s important to remember there are many risk factors for addiction, including family history of addiction, mental illness and the use of habit-forming pharmaceuticals.

A long-outspoken proponent of mind-body approaches to health and disease, Maté has begun treating patients using ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew made from the bark of an Amazonian rainforest tree, which early research has shown could hold promise for treating addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Because ayahuasca is a —> Read More