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One of the main problems when addressing the issue of addiction is the fact that this category is defined within many discourses in different ways. It is present in our common speech, as well as in different fields of study. This can be precisely our first obstacle, as the effect of signification this word has might coagulate its meaning and precipitate a simplistic explanation.
Goodman (1990, p. 1403) defines addiction as “a process whereby a behaviour, that can function both to produce pleasure and to provide escape from internal discomfort, is employed in a pattern characterized by (1) recurrent failure to control the behaviour (powerlessness) and (2) continuation of the behaviour despite significant negative consequences (unmanageability).” (Goodman, 1990, p.1).
This definition shows that the field of addiction is enormous; any object can be taken as an object of an addiction. Addictions can include the abuse of substances but also gambling, addiction to work, addiction to sex, etc. All these behaviours can be described as “compulsive” regarding certain activities and they involve powerlessness and lack of control.
However, in this thesis I will focus on those forms of addictions where a toxic substance is involved. In order to clarify and differentiate from other forms of addiction I will alternatively use the signifier “toxicomania” to refer to the form of addiction which entails the use of a toxic substance.
The main difference between toxicomania and other forms of addiction is the presence of a chemical substance which is introduced into the organism, modifying it and typically providing a feeling of pleasure or “high”. Consequently there is a “real” modification within the body as a result of the act of chemical intoxication.
Despite the fact that psychoanalytic investigation (2) has shown that any substance can ultimately be taken as an object of addiction, my investigations will be centred on substances which have proven in other fields to be “physically addictive” (3), namely substances which produce drug-induced changes in the physical brain.
I’m not suggesting addictive behaviour to be considered as a physical disease, but rather establishing the framework that will facilitate my investigation.
We should also bear in mind that a psychoanalytic approach to the matter should focus on the subject who takes the drugs. The distinction at the level of the object simply aims at differentiating toxicomanias from the other forms of addiction. We should not consider “physical dependence” as the main cause of addiction.
Considering physical dependence to be the cause of addiction has many implications. On the one hand, the cure is thought as a mere “detoxification”, trying to extirpate the toxic substance from the body. On the other, this approach does not take into account the role played by the subject and the functioning of the toxic substance in the psychical economy.
The medical discourse has had the biggest impact on the social perception of the phenomenon of addiction. Sylvie Lepoulichet (1990, p.21) suggests that the medical discourse is the most influential in any definition of toxicomania and has also affected some of the psychoanalytical theorisations on the subject.
The notion of pharmaco-dependency has clearly dominated the twentieth century. Addiction is explained as a double dependency, psychical and physiological without any interrogation of the role played by the subject.
In order to establish the foundation to a psychoanalytic investigation on the subject I will review Freud's conceptions on addiction from his early works like "The Cocaine Papers" (1884) to “Civilization and its Discontents" (1930).