The Buddhist ‘hungry ghost’ is the part of ourselves that experiences unbearable emptiness and spends its whole life attempting to satisfy that emptiness by seeking something, anything, from the outside. The task is impossible so the ghost remains hungry forever. That is addiction, whether to drugs, power, food, wealth, looks, status, relationships, sports, video games – in short, to anything.
Within a small radius of your very home, there are thousands of hungry ghost’s dependent on injecting, ingesting or inhaling a multiplicity of substances such as heroin and other opiates, crystal meth, cocaine, and alcohol, not to mention cannabis and nicotine.
Since our Society breeds such ghosts in all of us and since it is a part of ourselves we hate and fear, we outlaw the person who represents our own ghost self: the drug addict. We look in his eyes and see our own emptiness; we do not like it, so we reject him.
Addicts long for humanity. Their need for peace, harmony, validation, relief from suffering, agency and dignity in their lives are shared characteristics with all Human beings. Their dysfunctional attempts to meet those needs through substances are also representative of the common Human urge to fill from the outside the emptiness within.
Addictions are attempts to ease pain. In the case of hardcore drug addicts, that pain almost invariably originates in childhood trauma, emotional loss, neglect or abuse. Neglect or abuse affects a child’s brain development, in particular the system of self-soothing brain chemicals (endorphins and serotonin) that help make up a healthy Human being. Predisposition to addiction was programmed in their early years. Their brains never had a chance.
Yet, the addiction is not the primary problem – it is an attempt to solve the problem of pain. And of course, it creates more pain. Trying to give up the ‘solution’ without addressing the underlying problem of the emotional suffering that potentiated the addiction is wasted, because we are not dealing with the source.