Article Index



The Cocaine Papers

Freud had the idea that cocaine could be very beneficial for his patients as a local tanaesthetic. “Über Coca” was published in 1884. In this text Freud described the properties of the drug cocaine and explored its effects and therapeutic possibilities. He studied the effects on himself and others.
The properties of the drug included the capacity to increase the person’s ability to work and it allowed people to do without food for long periods of time. He also noticed that taking the drug meant an increase in physical strength.
His investigations led him to believe that human beings had an amount of energy available for work that was somewhat released by cocaine.

A system which has absorbed even an extremely small amount of cocaine is capable, as a result of the reaction of the body to coca, of amassing a greater store of vital energy which can be converted into work than would have been possible without coca. If we take the amount of work as being constant, the body which has absorbed cocaine should be able to manage with a lower metabolism, which in turn means a smaller intake of food (Freud, 1884, p.60)

Eventually, he rejected cocaine as a therapeutic instrument as he discovered that the effect of cocaine was not constant. Different individuals reacted differently to the drug. The effect depended, for instance, on the subject’s mood.
Freud’s investigations revealed that the effects could not be related to the object “cocaine” as its sole cause and this idea could not be explained by his physiological approach.
He finally concluded that cocaine was an “unpredictable object”: General reactions to the drug could not be stated (ibid., p.174) and in some people there was a possibility of a toxic effect.

I suspect that the reason for the irregularity of the cocaine effect lies in the individual variations in excitability and in the variation of the condition of the vasomotor nerves on which cocaine acts. Since little attention has been paid to this factor of individual predisposition, and the degree of excitability generally cannot be known, I consider it advisable to abandon so far as possible subcutaneous injection of cocaine in the treatment of internal and nervous disorders (ibid, p.176)

These arguments put forward have many implications as they can help us to understand Freud’s views on the object-drug. Freud clearly stated that the effects produced by the drug could not be located in the drug itself, but rather individual conditions and predisposition. This introduces a variable which is not taken into account in the medical discourse: the subject and its particularities.
Freud's further theorisations on the matter established a connection between addiction and his conception of sexuality.
In a letter to Flies in 1897 he describes addiction as a substitute to masturbation. “masturbation is the one major habit, the ‘primal addiction,’ and it is only as a substitute and replacement for it that the other addictions -- to alcohol, morphine, tobacco and the like -- come into existence.” (Masson, 1985, p. 287-289)
Freud considered that breaking an addiction involved the same treatment imposed to break the habit of masturbating and that they were both result of the lack of normal sexual intercourse. (Freud, 1898, p.268).
He claimed that masturbation was influential in the development of the neurosis of the subject. However he was not sure of the mechanism of the injurious effects of masturbation (if there were any) (Freud 1912, p 246)
Loose (2002, p.71) proposes that the masturbation issue played a central role in Freud’s thinking. He argues that Freud’s intention when connecting masturbation and addiction was to demonstrate the existence of a fundamental and internal impotence in humans for experimenting pleasure.
Freud didn’t propose a theory of practical solution to the question of addiction, his references to addiction are always connected to another topic but they suggest that the object of an addiction bears a connection with the sexual object.
This exploration of Freud's theories presents another difference from a clinical (medical) approach. Where other theories investigate the properties of the "object-drug" or substance involved, psychoanalysis investigates the connection with a more primitive object, the sexual object.
Freud (1912, p 246) hesitated in considering masturbation as an “actual neurosis”. Some contemporary psychoanalytic approaches share this uncertainty of classification in the field of addiction. We shall see that some authors consider addiction to be an actual neurosis.
J A. Miller’s further investigations on addiction also relate masturbation and addiction. Masturbation seems to bear a resemblance with addiction as both represent a shortcut to satisfaction. Miller (1993) indicates that the jouissance of drug addiction passes neither by the Other nor by phallic jouissance, i.e. avoiding the symbolic framework that mediates the subject's relationship with the object as if the subject could do without the Other to obtain satisfaction.

To fully understand Miller’s statements we need to elaborate on the Lacanian term “jouissance”. In the next section I will outline the most important ideas on Freud's Civilization and its Discontent and introduce Lacan's concept of jouissance