Drug addictions and addictions: contributions from psychoanalysis

Addictions (both toxic and non-toxic) have increased in our society at a rate difficult to measure. Faced with this situation, psychoanalysis has a lot to say, since it helps us understand what is happening to the person behind the addiction, and articulate theory and practice in the clinic to be able to give an answer to this situation.

Drug addictions and psychoanalytic structures

When referring to drug addictions and addictions, it should be noted that for psychoanalysis it is not a particular clinical structure or specific substances that lead to an alteration of the personality, as argued by psychiatric phenomenology or categorical classification systems ( DSM , CIE ). Psychoanalysis has three structures for diagnosis: Neurosis, Psychosis and Perversions .

Addictions and drug addictions are played in different structures and have a diverse function, not only in them but in each individual subject. In this way we can explain the existence of a variety of relationships of subjects with drugs or even the same relationships in different subjective positions (Lora and Calderon, 2010).

Major psychoanalysts and their focus on addictions

The subject of addictions was present in Freud from very early in his thought. In a letter to Wilhem Fliss of 12/22/1897 he writes the following: “It has occurred to me that masturbation is the first and only one of the great habits, protomania, and that all other addictions such as alcohol, morphine, tobacco, etc .; they only appear as substitutes and replacements for that ”(Freud, 2008/1950).


This idea will be taken up in one of his most important works: The Discomfort in Culture (1930). In it, he maintains that one can only “be ill” in culture, since the repression of drives is the price to pay for incorporation into civilization . Faced with this, the human being found substitute satisfactions (“crutches” as Theodor Fontane calls them): art, religion, scientific research or narcotics . Regarding the latter, he tells us that: “I do not think that anyone has understood its mechanism, but it is evident that there are certain substances foreign to the organism whose presence in the blood or tissues directly provides us with pleasant sensations, also modifying the conditions of our sensitivity in a way that prevents us from perceiving unpleasant stimuli (… ) men know that with these “just” they can always escape the weight of reality, taking refuge in a world of their own that offers better conditions for their sensitivity “(Freud, 2008/1930).

Freud points out that all these crutches have their pros and cons, and ultimately they end up causing the discomfort they want to avoid.

Lacan also referred to addictions very early in his work. In a collaboration carried out in 1938 for the Encyclopedie Française , he points out that weaning is -often- a psychic trauma whose mental effects can lead to anorexia, oral poisoning and gastric neurosis . It would be a desire to rediscover the maternal breast that remains viscously attached in the psyche (López, 2002).

In another article from 1946 (“About psychic causality”) he referred to organic poisoning as an illusory attempt at resolution in the face of the primordial disagreement between the Self and the being. Furthermore, he warns that this attempt requires ” the unquenchable consent of freedom “, that is, that this decision implies ignorance of the signifier and the order of the determination (Lacan, 2009).

In the 1950s, Lacan distinguished between the subject of the statement and the subject of the statement to demonstrate that the speaking being (parlêtre) is necessarily divided (Evans, 2007). In his 1967 “Little Speech to Psychiatrists” he asks himself: ” What is language for? “, And it is answered:” it is simple and capital: it makes the subject. This is already enough; because otherwise I ask them how they can justify the existence in the world of what is called the subject ”(Lacan, s / f).

Language in turn comes from the field of the other. Another that is both “treasure of the signifier” and the Unconscious, because the unconscious is structured as a language. The expression ” the signifier is what a subject represents for another signifier ” means that there is a constitution of the subject only and only after there has been a signifier. The inscription in the significant chain represents the position within the chain of generations, which evokes the paternal function. There is no possibility of being the son of a father outside the field of language, that is, of the articulation of the signifier (Carbajal, D´angelo and Marchilli, 1992).

For Lacan, language makes desire, which is always the desire of the other , treasure of the signifier. It must be clarified that desire is different from enjoyment. Enjoyment is defined as something that goes “beyond the pleasure principle”, it is an unpleasant-painful pleasure. ” Enjoyment is suffering ” he tells us in Seminary VII (1959). The prohibition of jouissance is inherent to the symbolic structure of language, by virtue of which ” jouissance is prohibited for the speaker, as such, or it cannot be said except between the lines for whoever is the subject of the law, since that the law is based on its prohibition ”(“ Subversion of the subject and field of the word ”). The subject’s entry into the symbolic implies the subject’s renunciation of jouissance in the Castration Complex: ” Castration means that enjoyment must be rejected to be achieved on the inverted scale of the law of desire ” (Lacan, 2009). The prohibition creates the need to transgress it and, therefore, enjoyment appears as a transgressor.

How is this related to addictions?

Drug addiction does not require the body of the other as a metaphor for lost enjoyment . Strictly speaking, it is an autoerotic jouissance that opposes phallic jouissance. The enjoyment that is sought in the body itself often prevents passing through the body of the fellow. Masturbation is an attempt to obtain autoerotic enjoyment without a partner . Drug addiction goes further, since it dispenses not only with the body of the like, but also with the phallic enjoyment that regulates the ghost. It is an increasingly solitary enjoyment (toxic autism), an autoerotic mock that tries the impossible: infiltrate enjoyment into the body. The drug addict opposes the enjoyment of the Other as an instrument and as a complement in order to avoid its lack (Lora and Calderon, 2010).

Another contribution of Lacan to think about the subject of addictions and drug addictions is found in his “Milan Conference” (1972). In Seminary XVII (1969-1970) he mentions for the first time his “four discourses” that establish different forms of social bond: that of the Master, that of the Hysterical, the University, and that of the Analyst. But in the Italian conference it includes a fifth speech that is actually a “false speech”, because it does not establish any social bond or have a cut-off point, but is in permanent operation. He is the one who calls “Capitalist Discourse”.

The Speech Capitalista is a v erwerfund(denied), rejected all symbolic order, castration or the impossibility of sexual relations. On the one hand, we have capitalist dominance that is based on surplus value, which for Lacan is a Plus of Enjoyment, a superego imperative to enjoy at any cost. In Lacan the Plus de Goce is a homology and not an analogy of surplus value. While for Marxism surplus value is the profit produced by the worker from which the employer appropriates, the Plus de Enjoyment is perceived in the dimension of the loss of phallic enjoyment, so it is necessary to compensate that lack with the object that serves as a stopper (Fernández, 2005). On the other hand, science has questioned the natural order by being able to manipulate the real. This has an impact on the “name of the Father” and on social ties. The (false) capitalist discourse does not promote social bond but rather the relation of the subject with the (consumer) object. It is, therefore, a masturbatory and autoerotic enjoyment – remember that Freud argued in 1897 that masturbation is the source of all addiction. But unlike other speeches, this one has no cut-off point because the objects are insufficient and new ones are always needed. The confluence of the market and science generates new consumer objects.

Lacan tells us that “it is a very cunning but unsustainable discourse, that is, it is destined to explode ” (Lacan, 1972). This is because the excess of enjoyment does not produce happiness but new forms of “ill-being” in the culture and the increase in pathologies linked to consumption, from addictions to eating disorders .

Current perspective of drug addiction from psychoanalysis

From a different and more recent perspective, it is argued that the drug actually fulfills a function in the structure, being a defense against enjoyment that the subject cannot limit otherwise. The subject tries to make a barrier to the Other’s Enjoyment, making use of the enjoyment that the drug provides. In this sense, addiction would not be a disease, but an attempt to remedy it (Heinrich, 1996).

For Héctor López (2002), drugs go against enjoyment, that level where pain begins to appear, whether in the body or existential. The drug tries to raise the barrier since the mechanisms of the Pleasure Principle have not worked . But given the ambiguity of the farmakon – the toxic one – it is not strange that enjoyment is reached by the opposite path to the journey to make it disappear. The drug addict falls into the paradox that, when seeking his freedom, he ends up being dependent on an object that he hopes to see as his own.

For López (2004) in drug addiction there is a specific mechanism called toxic cancellation , which differs from repression , foreclosure and denial without this implying a different clinical structure . This concept is taken from the pre-psychoanalytic Freud, who in his articles from 1884 (“Uber coca” and “Coca”) argued that cocaine has a toxic cancellation effect on painful conditions. It differs from repression because in it there is an action of the “symbolic versus the real”, while in cancellation it is “the real versus the real”. In denialthere is an object that stands in front of the lack, but this has a value that “unrealizes” it as a thing, while the drug or the drug has a real chemical effect on the nervous system that is independent of the subjectivity it can transform from them. Lastly, it differs from foreclosure because it implies a substitution of the Father’s name, but not the absence of the inscription of the signifier as occurs in psychosis (López, 2004).

Eric Laurent (1988) moves away from the Lacanian idea that the drug is ” the only way to break the marriage of the body with the little pee .” For this conception (developed by Lacan in the 1970s) addiction would not be a “compromise formation” as the symptom, but rather a “breakup formation” that would explain the addiction’s mania, similar to psychotic monomania, since this mania is on the opposite side of the phallus, which implies limitation. For Laurent, on the other hand, drug addicts do not use drugs to limit enjoyment, but – many times – to be able to locate it. It is the opposite of “rupture formation”, where it shows that the phallus is the one that locates the jouissance and when it is broken, the delocalized jouissance is found (Laurent, 1988; Naparstek, 2005, Zaffore, 2008).

The term farmakon operation , coined by Sylvie Le Poulichet (1996), is useful for us to account for the settings that the drug addict performs to obtain a certain stability when the effectiveness of the symptom is not available. The drug can then serve as a substitute or supplement.


The drug is used as a substitute when existence itself is at risk . It is always an attempt to dominate the body, which in general is alien and enigmatic, an attempt to supply the failure or absence of the Other. The extreme example of this, Le Poulichet (1996) tells us, is psychosis , where the poison is the substitute for a body , so its absence during detoxification is experienced as a mutilation. At the same time, the toxin also fulfills the function of closing the orifices of the body (the erogenous zones) to the Enjoyment of the Other. However, the appeal of the drug as a substitute is not an unequivocal sign of psychosis, and may also occur in other structures.

For this author, the “Substitution Clinic” must work on the elaboration of the body in the drive assemblies through transference constructions. The analyst must not make the “drug-object” disappear, which would immediately mutilate the person who has not yet constituted a body, but produce this transformation from a ” drug operation ” into a ” symptom elaboration “: that the real is aliene in imaginary and symbolic resources.

As for the drug as a supplement , he tries to account for the Lacanian paradox that the drug ” breaks the marriage with the little pee .” As a supplement, it constitutes a narcissistic prosthesis in subjects who do not question the existence of the Other or of themselves, but who are torn by the gap , which separates the Freudian Real Self from the Ideal of the Self. In other words, it is a mitigation of the “pain of no longer being” (as tango would say) or of “still not being”. The drug provides an imaginary supplement that supports the phallic insignia in the face of the threat of castration –in neurotic subjects- or the denial of castration –in perverse ones .


After having made this brief tour, we can conclude that the main contribution of psychoanalysis to the problem of drug addiction and addictions is being able to see the person behind the addiction and determine what their subjective position is in relation to jouissance, either that the drug is seen as a substitute satisfaction (Freud), an autoerotic enjoyment (Lacan), a barrier to enjoyment (Heinrich) or a location of enjoyment (Laurent, Naparstek). The encounter with the analyst is a possibility for the subject to be housed and listened to so that their enjoyment is transformed into something singular, with its particular symptoms, leaving aside the ideals that the “capitalist discourse” proposes through advertising and consumer objects.


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