Don’t Ostracize Drugs Users – Empathize With Them

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From Dr. Gabor Mate in The Globe and Mail: “‘We need to talk about what drives people to take drugs,’ the famed trauma psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk has said, pointing out that there is almost a direct correlation between childhood trauma and addiction. ‘People that feel good about themselves don’t do things that endanger their bodies… Traumatized people feel agitated, restless, tight in chest. You hate the way you feel. They take drugs in order to stabilize their bodies.’ This drive to regulate one’s body and mind, to escape distress, activates all addictions, substance-related or not, mild or severe.

All behaviours of addiction, from drugs to gambling to gaming, either directly soothe pain or distract from it. Temporarily, they all ease discomfort with the self. Hence my mantra: the first question is not, ‘Why the addiction?’ but ‘Why the pain?’ In my 12 years of work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the answer could not have been more stark. Every single one of my female patients had suffered sexual abuse as a child. None of my patients – male or female – had been spared major trauma of some kind. Not all addictions stem from such severe hurt, but all are rooted in sorrow, helplessness, and alienation.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe its because I’m a Christian, but…I think+believe that -ALL- human beings need empathy and compassion. Punishment and shunning are clearly not only counterproductive but, to my Christian mind, immoral.

    My own experience in the realm of “drug abuse” was hellish, and it only got worse once private, for profit hospitals got involved (I see now…that’s to be expected). Vulnerable youngster with good insurance? Hey, let’s destroy him! On the plus side…

    now that I’ve “recovered” (read: miraculously been made whole…happens, now and then), the “treatment” I received is useful in the sense that I’ve seen what Mental Health, Inc. is -really- about…and it isn’t compassion or even “helping people.”

    While I appreciate calls to show compassion, I don’t think one should have to play up previous trauma, abuse, etc. to be given compassion. The tone of the quoted ‘experts’ in this article make it seem as if the junkies need to provide a real -reason- to be shown the least bit of kindness. Again, as a Christian, I believe that even the most wretched human being, -ever- is still a human being, created in God’s image, and therefore deserving of respect and proper care, comapssion, even pity (I’m not only one of those who finds “pity” unacceptable…I think it is a valid human emotion…).