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The issue of drug addiction is a very complex phenomenon and many discourses try to define it. There seem to be an explanation of the phenomenon in every discourse. These explanations appear as a result of the demand of a “cause” of addiction. We should bear in mind that it is not pertinent to psychoanalysis to answer that demand, but to try to understand the matter with our available tools.
I tried to deconstruct this category in order to arrive at a psychoanalytic object of study, and to impose my own limits, as the field of addiction is enormous. I've centred my research in drugs which could cause changes in the physical brain if used for a long period of time. However, for psychoanalysis the importance of the qualities of the object-drug are secondary; the real issue is located at the level of the subject and the relationship that he establishes with that specific object.
I've explored different authors from the psychoanalytic literature to demonstrate that intoxication and toxicomania (addiction to drugs) should be clearly distinguished. Not everyone who uses drugs as a recreational use becomes addicted to them. The decisive factor is the subject. An addiction develops under certain subjective conditions.
Toxicomania appears as a self-medication to treat something which emanates from the realm of the body. Freud's ideas on pain showed that there is a psychical pain which takes up the model of the physical pain, and that occurs when the subject does not have the symbolic tools to deal with traumatic stimuli. In Lacanian terminology, it is to deal with an unbearable jouissance.
This inability to manage jouissance via symbolic processing causes the use of drugs to configure a non-symptomatic way to attain certain stability. i.e. toxicomania does not constitute a symptom in the psychoanalytic sense of the word.
One of the ways to describe the mechanism of toxicomania is the Freudian conception of actual neuroses. The description is valid, but the use of the concept in contemporary literature is problematic in relation to the existing nosographic division or clinical structures.
Toxicomanias are characterised by a casual encounter with the substance which makes the subject believe that the object of satisfaction is within the reach of his hand. In this sense the object-drug is connected with the primitive, sexual object.
Thus, the use of drugs becomes the most adequate response to deal with this pain which emanates from the body. The particular conditions for this to happen are singular and have to do with the story or that subject. At the next moment, this solution doesn’t work anymore and at the same time there have been changes in the “real” of the body which adds intensity to this dimension of pain.
There are not enough particularities to consider toxicomania as a specific pathology, structure or clinical entity, we’re dealing with the subject and the way he has organised a response to the question of a structural pain or lack. There is an inability to do this via a symbolic symptom.
There is a lack of symbolic processing and a shortcut to a form of pleasure, a sort of paradise which lasts for a short period of time. We could add that whilst this is the case we’re not dealing with a real “problem”.
We should also keep in mind that the real problem is not defined by the dangers that the use of drugs has to the physical health. Although that can be true to a certain extent, this is not the field of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis operates with the subject and it is a “practice” of the subject, it doesn’t operate on social identities. We should keep in mind that the graveness of the compulsive behaviour is defined by the degree of lack of subjectivity and inertia.
The field of toxicomania does not constitute a clinical structure, it is a paradoxical self-preserving mechanism as it outlines a temporary or chronic response to the issue of lack.
The particularities of structuration of the subject of addiction should be read bearing in mind the Freudian clinical structures: Psychoses, Neuroses and Perversion. In addition to this, a clear diagnosis can give us the tools to direct the cure. A subject can be related to a substance in multiple ways, therefore it is impossible to make a generalisation and consider it as an independent clinical structure. The state of addiction can have very different roles in a Psychosis, Neurosis or Perversion. We must bear in mind that we are dealing with subjects, not with addicts.
The treatment of toxicomania via psychoanalytic therapy can be efficient, but it is necessary to install in the subject who suffers from a form of toxicomania, the need of discourse. In order to start putting the situation into words, to configure another option to the "solution" found in the use of drugs.
It is an obstacle to consider addiction as a specific clinical entity or a particular pathology in the field of psychoanalysis. The evidence of the diagnostic signs can make clinicians forget about the particularities of the case by case.
Drugs are not the real toxic substance. What is toxic is the dimension of pain which invades the subject: an unbearable jouissance.
Most psychoanalytical theorisations give account of an insufficiency of language to keep the real of the body at a distance. They argue that there is a failure of deficit in the process of structuration of the subject. But they do not specify why toxicomania would be the “chosen” response to deal with this problem.
If that’s the case, toxicomanias do not constitute any particular pathology, but rather a specific response to the general issue of jouissance and castration. The effects of drugs compensate for the lack of function of the signifier regulating jouissance.
Considered as a form of structural pain, or insufficiency of the symbolic function, toxicity is always located at the level of the body. And substance abuse would only be a form of self-medication to deal with it.