The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” World Health Organization {Source}

For those of you that don’t have a lot of time, here’s Gabor Maté, MD’s TEDTalk – less than 20 minutes of your time. I believe that this man’s work is cutting-edge. For a transcript of the talk: The Power of Addiction and The Addiction to Power_ Gabor Maté Transcript

#mindbodymedicine #socioecologicalmodel #integrativemedicine #systemsthinking

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My definition of addiction is: any behavior that gives you temporary relief, temporary pleasure, but in the long term, causes harm, has some negative consequences and you can’t give it up despite those negative consequences.

And from that perspective, you can understand that there are many, many addictions. Yes, there is the addiction to drugs, but there is also the addiction to consumerism, there is the addiction to sex, to the internet, to shopping, to food.

The Buddhists have this idea of the hungry ghosts — the hungry ghosts are these creatures with large empty bellies and small, scrawny necks and tiny little mouths, so they can never get enough, they can never fill this emptiness on the inside. And we are all hungry ghosts in this society, we all have this emptiness and so many of us are trying to fill that emptiness from the outside and the addiction is all about trying to fill that emptiness from the outside.

Now, if you want to ask the question of why people are in pain, you can’t look at their genetics, you have to look at their lives. And in the case of my patients, my highly addicted patients, it’s very clear why they are in pain…And there is something else here too: the human brain. The human brain itself develops an interaction with the environment; it’s not just genetically programmed. The kind of environment that a child has will actually shape the development of the brain.

Because if they don’t want me, at least they are going to need me.


And then we look at the drug addict and we say to the drug addict, “How can you possibly do this to yourself? How can you possibly inject this terrible substance into your body that may kill you?”

But look at what we are doing to the earth. We are injecting all kinds of things into the atmosphere and the oceans and the environment that is killing us, that is killing the earth. Now which addiction is greater? The addiction to oil? Or to consumerism? Which causes the greater harm? And yet we judge the drug addict because we actually see that they are just like us and we don’t like that, so we say, “You are different from us, you are worse than we are.

Because power, the addiction to power, is always about the emptiness that we try to fill from the outside.

Now, they say that human nature is competitive, that human nature is aggressive, that human nature is selfish – it’s just the opposite, human nature is actually cooperative, human nature is actually generous, human nature is actually community-minded.

Which takes me to the Socio-ecological model / the ecological framework (aka the foundation of all of my education #systemsthinking):

WHO Ecological Model
The ecological framework, World Health Organization {Source}


Socio-ecological Model {Source}

Additional Resources:

  1. Ecological perspectives in health research
  2. The Ecology of Human Development
  3. Global Public Health: Ecological Foundations
  4. Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development


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