Parents create addicts and ADD: Mate

Gabor Mate doesn't believe in hope. After years working with drug addicts on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the Hungarian doctor doesn't have time or patience for it.

Gabor Mate doesn’t believe in hope.

After years working with drug addicts on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Hungarian doctor doesn’t have time or patience for it.

“Hope is all about the future; hope is all about getting away from the present,” said Mate from Vancouver early Thursday morning.

“It’s not a question of maintaining hope; it’s a question of seeing the real possibility of doing things right now.”

And Mate is doing a lot.

He was rushing to a conference he was hosting on addictions this week, and it was hard to keep Mate on the phone. The service was patchy, and he kept cutting out.

“I guess, I’ll have to stop walking for a minute to answer your questions,” he said.

Mate’s life sounded a tad stressful, which is surprising given his take on stress.

“Stressful ways of living can lead to disease,” he said, citing a long list of ailments including cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic fatigue, asthma, and Crohn’s.

An emotional event totally changes a person’s body and that’s happening all the time, he said.

“So people who are emotionally stressed are physiologically stressed.”

Linking emotional states with physical problems is unusual for a western doctor, but Mate is adamant.

“Science is totally clear that mind and body cannot be separated – it’s not even controversial,” he said.

“The centres in the brain that process emotions are part and parcel of a larger system, which includes the immune system, the nervous system and the hormones.”

Mate, who has written books on stress, attention deficit disorder and parenting, most recently tackled addictions.

“Nobody goes into addiction work without having their own issues,” he said.

But Mate’s addictions are subtle, and culturally sanctioned.

“There’s a whole lot of addictions we don’t even think of as addictions,” he said, citing work, shopping, and relationship issues.

The workaholic and the alcoholic share many of the same traits, but a workaholic is praised for her work and is rewarded with a higher salary.

“But they pay a tremendous cost in terms of personal health, stress, have less time with family, and experience a loss of intimacy in their relationships,” said Mate. “Yet they don’t see it as an addiction.

“As much as they love work, they’re also working to escape from themselves – it’s how they deal with emotional issues they’d rather not face.”

Mate’s Downtown Eastside patients exhibit similar characteristics.

“Everybody down there was abused as children,” he said.

And while the workaholics and shopaholics may not have been physically abused, they still suffered when they were young, he said.

“There was some degree of pain in childhood, and experiences where the child’s needs were not being met,” said Mate.

This leads to a sense of emptiness. To fill the void they turn to external needs, like shopping, work or alcohol.

“It’s all methods of self-soothing,” said Mate.

“If you look at the research on addiction, what drives addiction for the most part is stress,” he said.

“The more stress, the more need you have to soothe yourself.”

The war on drugs is a case in point.

In terms of a drug addict, when you stress them by making them criminals, marginalizing and impoverishing them, you are actually entrenching them in addiction,” said Mate.

“The system we have right now could have been consciously designed to keep people addicted.

“While the war on drugs stresses people, it does absolutely nothing to stop the drug trade because its been going for 100 years – it doesn’t make a bit of a difference.

“And it comes out of prejudice for the activity, rather than compassion, evidence or science.”

Using science to examine emotions, addictions and disorders has brought Mate to some interesting conclusions.

Attention-deficit disorder is not hereditary, he said.

At least, not in the way most people presume.

It all comes back to how the brain develops under stress.

Imagine you’re in a room where you can’t run, you can’t hide, and screaming won’t get you anywhere, he said.

The only escape is to shut down.

And in a stressful situation, that’s what infants do, he said.

It’s not necessarily an abusive situation, added Mate.

“It can just be stress because parents are stressed and kids pick up on that because that’s what kids do.

“Then they shut down, their brain does it automatically, it’s a defence the brain has.”

Trouble is, these young brains are in the process of growing.

“That’s when brain circuits are developing and taking shape physiologically,” said Mate. “And guess what, all that stress, it gets tuned into your brain.”

The result is ADD.

“People think it’s hereditary because maybe your father had it,” said Mate.

“But it’s not passed on genetically, it’s passed on through stress.”

In his workshops, Mate sees a common thread linking the participants, whether their drug addled addicts or educators.

“They’re people from all walks of life, but what’s universal is that all their lives were characterized in childhood by parents who were too stressed and too emotionally absent to actually give them the attention and nurturing that they needed,” he said.

“So as a child develops, they have this emptiness they need to fill, and that actually affects the brain circuits physiologically and biologically.

“That’s why the environment is so crucially important those first three years.”

Addiction prevention begins in the crib, said Mate.

The current economic crisis has raised stress levels across North America.

The result has been an increase in junk food consumption, said Mate.

“Plus there has been no decline in alcohol consumption, despite that fact that people have less money,” he said.

“And that’s because when people are stressed they turn to substances that immediately soothe their stresses, and junk foods do that.”

The starches and sugars in junk food release chemicals in the brain that actually alleviate stress, he said.

Mate has shed light on the causes of learning disabilities and addictions, but the solutions are less concrete.

“Given that people are emotional creatures, spatial creatures, psychological creatures and physiological creatures – and given that they’re all connected – you need to approach people with compassion and understanding of their emotional needs,” he said.

Basically, all we need is love.

“And everyone suffers when they perceive that they’re not (loved),” said Mate.

“And if we’re not loved, or perceive that we’re not, as children, we develop self-harming habits and stressful ways of living.”

Mate is coming to Whitehorse to participate in Minds of Gold, a national conference on learning disabilities, hosted by Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon.

He’s also giving a public lecture title, Peer Orientation: Why Children are Stressed? Why Parents and Teachers are Disempowered? and How to Restore a Healthy Balance in Adult-Child Relationships.

The talk is at the High Country Inn’s convention centre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 24. It’s free for conference participants, and $40 otherwise.

Minds of Gold begins on September 24 and runs through the 27th.

It features Mate, Richard Lavoie, Fraser Mustard, Ben Polis, Barbara Wilson and Martin Brokenleg.

For more information contact Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon, or go to

Contact Genesee Keevil at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read