In his essay “Embraced by the Needle”, Gabor Maté sets out the stages of drug addiction and its consequences. At first he explains the physiological effects of using drugs. Then he suggests that emotionally fragile youth, who have experienced different degrees of stress, are more likely to become substance abusers.
Maté is a physician who practices in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, often referred to as the drug capital of Canada. He estimates that the addict population in Vancouver is around 3,000 to 5,000 individuals. Maté uses scientific research to identify the biological essence of the “high”, which is a condition under the influence of drugs. He explains how the drugs interact with the brains chemistry to give the user pleasure. In particular, he confirms opiates can develop a “high” excitement, which can induce users to temporarily escape from depressions and to feel better (273).
In its “normal” state, Maté explains that the human brain has opiate receptors that interact with endorphins, natural opiate-like substances that can reduce pain and regulate mood. However for some people who suffer early childhood stressors, their ability to naturally produce these positive effects is significantly reduced. They are the ones who are susceptible to addiction. Maté’s thesis is that as these children mature, they look for ways to manage their stress or tension. This belief is expressed by the words of an addicted twenty-seven year-old sex trade worker: “it felt like a warm, soft hug” (273). Moreover, Maté insists that for these people, drug use can very quickly become an addiction. Therefore, addiction becomes defined as the state of “emotional anesthetic and numbing pain” (273) caused by opiates like cocaine, heroin, tranquilizer, or any combination of chemicals.
Therefore in Gabor’s opinion the drugs by itself do not cause addiction. As he commented, “No drug is, in itself, addictive.” (273) What he means by