Article Index


5. CAUSES OF ADDICTION



In the previous sections I have mentioned the most important psychoanalytic approaches to the question of toxicomania in order to differentiate them from a classic approach. From Freud we learn that psychoanalysis locates the “cause” at the level of the subject, and not the substance.
The concept of actual neuroses put forward that toxicomania appears as a reaction to something which happens in the realm of the body The toxic substance is a way to deal with this other “toxicity" which emanates from the body. We can provisionally say that toxicomania is a defence against this toxicity.
I have also suggested that there are specific mechanisms which underlie the phenomenon of toxicomania.
In this chapter I will explore the different views on these mechanisms and examine the possible “causes” of addiction.
In order to shed some light over this matter I will go over the main points in Freud’s conception of pain and its relationship with Lacan’s concept “jouissance”. This will provide the foundations to study the case of toxicomania as a way of dealing with pain, or in Lacanian terms to deal with an unbearable jouissance.
I will also extensively examine Loose’s ideas on toxicomania and his concept of “administration of enjoyment”.


Freud’s ideas on pain

In “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” Freud describes the mechanism of pain. He illustrates it comparing it to a “vesicle of a substance that is susceptible to stimulation” (Freud, 1930, p 3730).
This vesicle has a barrier against stimuli. These stimuli can come from the outside world as well as from within.
“We describe as ‘traumatic’ any excitations from outside which are powerful enough to break through the protective shield. It seems to me that the concept of trauma necessarily implies a connection of this kind with a breach in an otherwise efficacious barrier against stimuli.” (ibid, 3732)
Freud compares these stimuli with the drives and argues that when the psyche is under the influence of pain, all the psychological resources are concentrated on dealing with the part of the body affected and “empty the ego” (Freud, 1926. p 4323). Libido and the ego's interest can't be distinguished. There are many modifications as a result of pain, all libido is withdrawn from the objects and concentrates on the organs which are giving us pain. In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926) Freud situates another form of pain, the psychological pain. This form of pain arises with the loss of an object. This situation presents the same "cathexis economy" than physical pain but instead of being concentrated on the representation of the injured part of the body, the cathexis of longing is concentrated on the missed or lost object (ibid, p. 4323).
Freud explains that an infant can't distinguish a "temporary" absence from a "loss" so, when he can't see his mother, he behaves as if he would never see her again. (Ibid p. 4322). In other words, the infant does not have the symbolic tools to inscribe this traumatic situation. This explanation seems to suggest that pain appears when the dimension of “absence” has not been introduced.
When the subject enters the world of language he loses his real body as organism. This separation from the real of the body via its symbolic elaboration is also what keeps the subject separated from jouissance. When there is a “hole” in this symbolic barrier, pain appears as an immediate response to the invasion of jouissance and the real of the body.
I will now explore the ideas which present toxicomania as a mechanism to deal with pain.

Cancellation of pain

Some toxic substances have the ability of "cancelling" pain. This is precisely one of its most important effects.
According to Hector Lopez (2003, p 142) the subject of addiction suffers from “something” he can’t escape as it has the same status of a drive. He states that pain is the inability to bind the drive energy to any representation and describes it as the conscious correlate of “jouissance” “What is jouissance in an instance it is pain in the other” (ibid. p 145 my translation)
He explains that this pain is experienced as a result of the breaking down of the defences against jouissance. Hence, the toxic substance becomes necessary to treat the pain.
“Pain and chemical cancellation are complementary terms (…) the addict’s problem is pain, and the mechanism employed as a defence: cancellation” (ibid. p. 149 my translation).
Pain emerges as a result of the impossibility to link the energy of the drive to a representation. Lopez (2005) calls it a “symptom in the real”: The subject does not have the mechanisms to knot jouissance and the signifier to generate a neurotic symptom.
The subject closeness to jouissance is felt as pain. Pain is the breaking through defences and the invasion of the real dimension of jouissance. Intoxication becomes the most effective treatment against this invasion as it creates a “chemical barrier” against anxiety.
Toxicomania is, then, the solution found by the subject in order to defend himself against something unbearable. According to Hector Lopez (2005) the subject is not capable of dealing with privation. He argues that there is a “structural privation” in every subject. if a subject has gone through castration. There is a permanent state of abstinence regarding total satisfaction.
In the addict “abstinence” is the return of a structural abstinence. The use of drugs is the apparent solution. But this solution and satisfaction must be clearly distinguished.
His hypothesis is that on the one hand satisfaction can’t be thought of as something immediate but rather as a metonymic journey and a metaphoric production. We can say that having accepted the impossibility of complete satisfaction with the object, there is still a way to satisfaction. This involves the detour of language and desire, the pleasure of the symbolic
The addict is unable to carry out this task and that is precisely where the substance comes into the scene. The encounter with a toxic substance provides a sensation which may lead him or her to believe that the object of satisfaction is within the reach of his or her hands.


The Pharmakon

Sylvie le Poulichet (1990) theorises about the specificity of this mechanism. She calls it the “pharmakon operation”.
The word "pharmakon" in Plato’s texts has an indecidable meaning. (1989, Silverman) Among the contradictory meanings are included: "a drug, a healing remedy or medicine, an enchanted potion or philter, a charm or spell, a poison, a means of producing something, a dye or paint.” Derrida (cited by Silverman, 1989, p. 8) insist that when Plato contextualises this word the multivalence of the word remains in the Greek text.
Le Poulichet (1990, p.53) distinguishes the pharmakon operation from the broader field of substance abuse. The pharmakon can be described as the operation which “gives” a body to the subject. When the pharmakon is not there, the subject feels something missing.
One of the richest metaphors used to describe this operation comes from one of her patients who describe the pharmakon operation as a “phantom limb”. A phantom limb is a frequent consequence of the amputation of an extremity; this limb becomes the source of pain, although in reality is not a part of the body anymore.
This paradox situates the affection in the frontier between the psychical and somatic spheres. The toxic substance has the ability of creating the image of a limb which is not part of the body but hurts. This is an imposition to the subject.
Le Poulichet adds that this phenomenon seems to be related to a form of "hallucination" that takes place when the drug is not there, i.e. in abstinence. (ibid. p.54)
The pharmakon represents the toxic cancellation of pain and it appears as a result of a deficit or “hole” in the symbolic elaboration of the body.


This way of dealing with pain is explained by Rik Loose in terms of the subject's relationship with jouissance. He conceptualises it as “administration of enjoyment". In the next section I will summarize the author's idea of toxicomania and his hypothesis on the subject.


Administration of enjoyment

Rik Loose defines toxicomania as “the search by the subject for an object which can be administrated at will, which would satisfy desire and regulate or keep jouissance at an ideal level.” (Loose, 2002, p. 174)
He introduces the concept of “administration”. This concept functions as a hinge between the clinical structures and addiction and distinguishes between toxicomania and the ordinary use of alcohol and drugs. (ibid, p.135)
Etymologically “administration” comes from the Latin administrare, which means to minister to. A minister is a servant.
He considers this an appropriate signifier as “addiction is the enslavement to enjoyment (jouissance), as well as to language. Addiction is a matter of the subject being caught, as minister or slave, between two masters and it is characterised by the choice of the subject for (going “lock, stock and barrel” for) the One (of jouissance) rather that the Other (Of language)” (ibid. p .136)
This has important implications as it introduces a new element: the subject's responsibility. The author suggests that toxicomania is the response that the subject chooses in order to obtain satisfaction. And at the same time he avoids having to take the detour of language (the symbolic path of desire to a partial satisfaction).
He argues that the desire of the Other is problematic for addicts. Therefore this “administration at will” is a way to avoid the encounter with the desire of the Other. In other words it is a way of satisfaction largely independent of the Other. The encounter with the Other involves a risk, which is precisely what the subject of addiction cannot bear. He is unable to accept that the object cause of desire is irretrievably lost for the subject. (ibid. p. 154)


He describes two forms of toxicomania: A first form which aim at “Other jouissance” beyond pleasure and another form as a “protection against the death drive of the jouissance of the body”. (Loose, 2002. p. 185). The “toxicity” which emanates from “real” unsymbolised parts of the body can become a cause for suffering.
This idea suggests that the process of losing the body as organism has not been entirely successful, and this shows its toxic effects.
In this second case, the toxicity is situated at the level of the subject. Language is not successful in the task of keeping the real body at a distance. He also argues (ibid. p. 189) that the effects of drugs can compensate for the lack of the function of the signifier which is regulating jouissance and “keeping anxiety at bay”. Drugs or alcohol function as barriers against the lethal domain beyond ordinary pleasure.
However, the first form of toxicomania described by the author appears as problematic. When he refers to this “Other jouissance” beyond pleasure we infer he is referring to the intention of the subject to escape the limits imposed by castration. In Lacan the concept of “Other jouissance” is used to describe a form of jouissance beyond the sexual (phallic) form. This characterises the feminine jouissance. However, Rik Loose is not explicit about this.
Rik Loose describes two symbolically determined causes for addiction, which are intertwined. The first cause relates to the structural lack the subject of addiction wants to undo and the second the “unconscious knowledge in the real” as en effect of drugs and alcohol which can “hook” the subject. (Loose, 2002, p. 223).
He argues that the “knowledge in the real” is different to the “real in science”. This is a knowledge which is related to the real of the unconscious of the subject. It has a relation to meaning, as it wants to find an expression of an inexpressible jouissance. That is also why the ultimate cause of the different effects of drugs is found in language (Loose, 2002, p. 224).
Addicts often describe what they experience under the effects of a particular drug as having access to “another level” suggesting that these particular experiences are unique and special, and banned to people who do not use drugs. These experiences may be unique but their effect depends ultimately in the signifier.

“This “knowledge in the real” are precisely the signifiers that have affected the subjects from the very beginning and without their knowledge (…) The earliest encounters between the subject and the signifiers of the other are the utmost importance in the cause-and-effect relationship between drugs and their subject-specific effects”

(Loose, 2002, p. 224)

This is to say that there is an impossiblitity of determining the causes of addiction a priori. The complexity of the issue lies precisely in the fact that toxicomanias are built on the foundations of the particular relationship between each subject's history and the object drug.
Some addicts describe their experiences as a total access to pleasure. There is no such thing as access to total jouissance. By definition this is lost. These experiences described by subjects about an immense pleasure, a “paradise on earth” can be misleading. One could be tempted to think that these experiences could be the cause for the compulsion to repeat them over and over or consider them as a positive experience. But this “jouissance illusion” can be easily explained as determined by discourse.
The cause for this “ultimate pleasure” is the expression of the relief of tension. The precondition is the existence of a stimulus strong enough at the level of the body.


Rik Loose describes toxicomania as a "hinge" with the clinical structures. In the next chapter I will explore the relationship between toxicomania and the clinical structures. This can help us to understand the functioning of toxicomania in the economy of each subject in particular but with the framework of the three clinical structures (Neurosis, Psychosis, and Perversion). Each one establishes a particular relation of the subject to the Other.