Trauma: How We've Created a Nation Addicted to Shopping, Work, Drugs and Sex
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You know, in other words—see, it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the drugs, Gabor Maté, affect the development of the brain.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: In ADD, there’s an essential brain chemical, which is necessary for incentive and motivation, that seems to be lacking. That’s called dopamine. And dopamine is simply an essential life chemical. Without it, there’s no life. Mice in a laboratory who have no dopamine will starve themselves to death, because they have no incentive to eat. Even though they’re hungry, and even though their life is in danger, they will not eat, because there’s no motivation or incentive. So, partly, one way to look at ADD is a massive problem of motivation, because the dopamine is lacking in the brain. Now, the stimulant medications elevate dopamine levels, and these kids are now more motivated. They can focus and pay attention.
However, the assumption underneath giving these kids medications is that what we’re dealing with here is a genetic disorder, and the only way to deal with it is pharmacologically. And if you actually look at how the dopamine levels in a brain develop, if you look at infant monkeys and you measure their dopamine levels, and they’re normal when they’re with their mothers, and when you separate them from mothers, the dopamine levels go down within two or three days.
So, in other words, what we’re doing is we’re correcting a massive social problem that has to do with disconnection in a society and the loss of nurturing, non-stressed parenting, and we’re replacing that chemically. Now, the drugs—the stimulant drugs do seem to work, and a lot of kids are helped by it. The problem is not so much whether they should be used or not; the problem is that 80 percent of the time a kid is prescribed a medication, that’s all that happens. Nobody talks to the family about the family environment. The school makes no attempt to change the school environment. Nobody connects with these kids emotionally. In other words, it’s seen simply as a medical or a behavioral problem, but not as a problem of development.
AMY GOODMAN: Gabor Maté, you talk about acting out. What does acting out mean?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, it’s a great question. You see, when we hear the phrase "acting out," we usually mean that a kid is behaving badly, that a child is being obstreperous, oppositional, violent, bullying, rude. That’s because we don’t know how to speak English anymore. The phrase "acting out" means you’re portraying behavior that which you haven’t got the words to say in language. In a game of charades, you have to act out, because you’re not allowed to speak. If you landed in a country where nobody spoke your language and you were hungry, you would have to literally demonstrate your anger—sorry, your hunger, through behavior, pointing to your mouth or to your empty belly, because you don’t have the words.