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. Because they have been abused all of their lives, they began life as abused children. All of the women I have worked with over a twelve year period, hundreds of them, they had all been sexually abused as children. And the men had been traumatised as well; the men had been sexually abused, neglected, physically abused, abandoned and emotionally over and over again. And that’s why the 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.
Now, I can tell you about two experiments with mice. You take a little mouse and you put food in its mouth and he’ll eat it and enjoy it and swallow it, but if you put the food down a few inches away from his nose, he will not move to eat it, he will actually starve to death rather than eat. Why? Because, genetically, they knocked out the receptors for a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is the incentive and motivation chemical.
Dopamine flows whenever we are motivated, excited, vital, vibrant, curious about something, whether seeking food or a sexual partner. Without the dopamine, we have no motivation.
Now what do you think the addict gets? When the addict shoots cocaine, when the addict shoots crystal meth or almost any drug, they get a hit of dopamine in their brain and the question is: what happened to their brains in the first place? Because it’s a myth that drugs are addictive. Drugs are not by themselves addictive, because most people who try most drugs never become addicted.
There’s another little experiment with mice where infant mice, if they are separated from their mothers will not cry for their mothers. Now what would that mean in the wild? It means that they would die. Because only the mother protects the child’s life and nurtures the child and why? Because genetically they knocked out the receptors, the chemical binding sites in the brain, for endorphins and endorphins are indigenous, morphine-like substances; endorphins are our own natural pain killers.
Now…what endorphins also do, they make possible the experience of love; they make possible the experience of attachment to the parent and the parents’ attachment to the child so these little mice without endorphin receptors in their brains will naturally not call for their mothers.
In other words, the addiction to these drugs and of course the heroine and the morphine, what they do is they act on the endorphin system, that’s why they work. And so, the question is: what happens to people that they need these chemicals from the outside? Well what happens to them is when they are abused as children, those circuits don’t develop.
When you don’t have love and connection in your life, when you are very, very young, then those important brain circuits just don’t develop properly. And under conditions of abuse, things just don’t develop properly and their brains then are susceptible then when they do the drugs.
Now they feel normal, now they feel pain relief, now they feel love. And as one patient said to me; “When I first did heroine,” she said, “it felt like a warm soft hug, just like a mother hugging her baby.”
Now, I’ve had that same emptiness, not to the same degree as my patients. What happened to me is that I was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1944 to Jewish parents just before the Germans occupied Hungary and you know what happened to the Jewish people in Eastern Europe, and I was 2 months old when the German army moved into Budapest. And the day after they did, my mother phoned the paediatrician and she said, “Would you please come and see Gabor because he is crying all the time.” And the paediatrician said, “Well, of course, I will come to see him, but I should tell you, all of my Jewish babies are crying.”
And what does that mean? It means that I am working all the time, and when I am not working, I’m consumed by buying music. What message do my kids get? My kids get the same message that they are not wanted. And this is how we pass it on, we pass on the trauma and we pass on the suffering, unconsciously, from one generation to the next. So obviously, there are many, many ways to fill this emptiness, and for each person, there is a different way of filling the emptiness but the emptiness always goes back to what we didn’t get when we were very small.
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?”