Trauma is at the nature of addiction, according to Dr. Gabor Mate.
“Addiction is only a symptom, it’s not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is trauma,” said Mate.
Mate was in Regina on Wednesday to speak at the sixth International Training Symposium on Innovative Approaches to Justice: Where Justice and Treatment Meet.
The conference started Tuesday and runs until Friday at the Hotel Saskatchewan. Judges, lawyers, counsellors and professionals who work in treatment courts from across the country are in attendance, along with a handful of people from the United States. The conference is held every two years, with the last one being held in Vancouver.
“A lot of issues that people have are related to a trauma in their life … so we’re bringing in professionals to talk about the nuts and bolts of how you deal with that population,” said Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judge Clifford Toth, one of the organizers of the conference.
Mate, a doctor from Vancouver, is one of the keynote speakers. He worked for 12 years in Vancouver’s downtown east side, which is one of the most concentrated areas of drug use in Canada. He also wrote a book about addiction entitled In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
His talk at the conference, A Bio-physical Perspective on Addiction, focused on the nature of addiction, what causes it and the way to best approach people who are suffering from it.
“Before we ask how we handle something, we have to understand what are we handling,” Mate said.
Addiction connects back to trauma that people have experienced in their life, said Mate. Once people understand this, then treatment can happen.
“Unfortunately most of the medical profession and the legal system does not understand addiction. Therefore our treatment and legal solutions tend not to be helpful, and in fact they often tend to be harmful,” he said.
Mate sees drug treatment courts, like the one that is operated in Regina, as a step in the right direction. The courts are a step away from the traditional punishment approach. There is recognition in the courts that there is no justice without health, Mate said. These courts recognize that people are acting out because of their trauma.
“When we understand that the people who are addicted are traumatized people, now we have to take an approach that will help them heal that trauma, rather than make it worse,” Mate said.
Mate sees the conference as a way to open peoples’ minds to giving people that treatment.
“What I get about the conference is that it’s a real earnest and well-organized attempt to broaden the conversation and to bring together people from different disciplines,” he said.
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