Summary of Gabor Mate’s ‘Embracing the Needle’

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Gabor Mate’s essay Embracing the Needle explores the origins and effects of addiction. He argues that addiction always stems from a source of unhappiness, and provides examples of situations that lead people to develop harmful coping behaviours. Mate discusses the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, a heavily populated area of addicts who often struggle with mental illness. He also discusses the role of methadone in quelling withdrawal from opiates. Mate cites scientific evidence to explain why people are susceptible to addiction both biologically and emotionally. In the second part of the essay, Mate provides anecdotes of situations that contribute to the development of addictions in his clients. He asserts that the majority of addicts in the Downtown Eastside were sexually abused as children and suffered from other forms of abuse and neglect. Mate concludes by emphasizing the importance of endorphin-stimulating experiences in childhood to prevent addiction.

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Summary of “Embracing the Needle” by Gabor Mate

In his essay “Embracing the Needle,” Gabor Mate discusses addiction, its origins, and its effects on individuals. Mate aims to educate readers about the underlying factors of addiction and why people continue engaging in addictive behaviors. He highlights that addiction always arises from a state of unhappiness, even if the cause is not immediately evident. The essay begins by exploring the root causes of addiction and then presents examples where specific circumstances contribute to the creation and perpetuation of harmful coping mechanisms.

Mate’s essay discusses the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, known for having the highest concentration of addicts in Canada. He points out that many individuals struggling with addiction in this area also face mental health challenges. Mate goes on to explain how methadone helps alleviate painful symptoms of opiate withdrawal. To demonstrate the effects of opiate drugs, he shares an anecdote from a client who described their experience as “a warm, soft hug.” (Mate, 273)

Scientific findings provide explanations for vulnerability to addiction, both biologically and emotionally. Mate mentions that certain neurotransmitters are necessary for self-soothing and pain regulation, referencing a study involving infant rats receiving less grooming from their mothers. These rats showed a decrease in natural benzo receptors in the brain region responsible for anxiety control. (Mate 275) Mate argues that humans also require similar receptor stimulation and suggests that infants lacking such stimulation leading to endorphin release have a higher likelihood of developing addiction.

The second part of the essay focuses on various anecdotes that contribute to the development of addictions in clients. Mate discusses how many women and men in the Downtown Eastside have experienced sexual abuse and other mistreatment during childhood. An example is shared about a client named Carl, who was confined in a dark room as a child due to his excessive energy levels. Additionally, it is mentioned that individuals who become addicted often come from caring households but lacked enough endorphin-stimulating experiences due to their parents’ stress, anxiety, or depression. The essay concludes with another anecdote about a client’s struggle with childhood trauma.

Mate, Gabor. “Embraced by the Needle.” Essay Writing for Canadian Students, 6th Edition, by Stewart, Kay L. et al., Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2007, pp. 273-277. Print.

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Summary of Gabor Mate’s ‘Embracing the Needle’. (2016, Jul 04). Retrieved from

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