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Are we ll addicts?: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

“Todos somos adictos”, which translates into “we are all addicts”, is a verse written by famous Argentine musician Gustavo Cerati. In one way or another, art has always been a great attestant of the culture it comes from, and Cerati was not far from the truth when he wrote this into one of his songs. It seems as if the post-modern era comes characteristically with such premise. Why is this society in constant search of consuming pleasurable means to satiate destabilizing impulses? When it seems as if the illusion of satisfaction is the very thing that leads to destabilizing behaviors, ultimately bringing a great dose of displeasure. And so the cycle never ends, the constant search only grows into the standard way of passing through, of dealing with ourselves and the world around us. Luciano Lutereau and Gabriel Belucci (2017) give an interesting thesis on addictions, on how the subject relates to its drug-object. Exploring the relationship between the subject and the object consumed gives us a better idea on how addiction works from a psychoanalytic perspective and helps us better understand today's culture of consumerism. A culture that seems to have an unquenchable desire to consume more every day. Are we all addicts?

As a society, we have grown and developed into the functions of capitalism, where the axis of our structure, our center line, consists of capital: forms of assets and wealth give movement and direction to mankind. In turn, we do not stop at a simple form of consumerism in order to satisfy or reward our desires, this does not allow the movement in which we revolve. On the contrary, we have created a discourse that increases and stimulates the intensification of these desires to keep the wheel turning, giving into a never-ending loop of illusive satisfaction. However, psychoanalysis has long fought with the premise that complete satisfaction is possible. Psychoanalysis studies the lack and how humans deal with the impossibility of being all-powerful, all-satisfied. Furthermore, Lacanian psychoanalysis positions the lack itself as a condition of language, meaning that mankind is precisely "castrated" because it is born in language and cannot escape from it.

Figure 1: Campbell Soup Cans (Warhol, 1962).

In short, human beings come to life with the impossibility of fending for themselves and satisfy their own basic necessities. As babies, we experience full satisfaction of these necessities when our care-giver takes care of them: we get fed and hunger is fully satisfied through our mother's breast, for example. However, while we rely on our mother to have such necessity fed, our instincts fall behind and desire takes place in our psyche. We desire for our mother to keep satisfying such necessities. Hence, we desire to be our mother's one and only desire, the desire to satisfy us. When this does not become reality, our first traumatic experience of lack is inaugurated. We not only lack the ability to satisfy our own needs, we lack that which our mother desires, we become subject to such signifier, to the desire of becoming this. Therefore, there is an emptiness in us as subjects, always subject to the Other, to the signifier, which can never be truly fulfilled, but which also allows the subject to move, to direct desire into other culturally approved objects. However, drugs, substances, and other "addictive" objects have the particularity of an allure that comes as a necessity for a subject's use. Why does this happen? Is addiction an issue regarding the object itself? Psychoanalysis studies addiction not as biological or chemical consequence, but from the relationship the subject has with this desired object. For psychoanalysis, it is not about what the object does, but about what the subject bestows on this drug-object (Rivera, 1993).

In his early scientific studies, psychoanalyst and neurologist Sigmund Freud dedicated himself to learn about cocaine and its possible biological effects. His studies involved consuming small and controlled doses of the drug and documenting its medicinal effects and anesthetic properties. He discovered fascinating outcomes of cocaine consumption which he described as a marvelously stimulating power. For Freud, the drug was powerful enough to aid in medical traumas and various illnesses, and stated that, when consumed in such minor doses, it did not cause addiction but the contrary, it could also help with alcohol dependence. However, one of the most notable aspects that Freud pinned down from his research was the power cocaine had to exclude impossibilities. In his text, On Cocaine (1884), he writes the following:

During this stage of the effects of cocaine, undistinguished by anything else, symptoms appear that are generally described as coca's marvelously stimulating power. It is at this point that prolonged, intense labor can be realized, both mental and physical, without feelings of fatigue. It is as if the need to eat and sleep, which would make themselves peremptorily felt at certain points of the day without the coca, are completely eliminated. Whilst the effects of the cocaine last, if one desires, one can eat copious amounts; but one has the distinct feeling that food is unnecessary. Likewise, when the effect of the coca begins to wear off, nothing impedes one from sleeping, but it is possible to overcome the tiredness, without any unpleasant consequences… (p. 9).

Figure 2: IN124: Sigmund Freud (Freud Museum London, 1922).

The greatest power this drug has is the sense of possibility, where the consumer does not find himself in the position of having to give in to basic necessities such as eating or sleeping. French psychoanalyst, Jean Allouch, describes this aspect as the lack of limits in consumption; if it excludes impossibility, it gives the subject that which he lacks. Such drug comes to the subject as a superior object, an alluring object. A pathway towards giving him an imaginary sensation of power, of not having a sense of impossibility. Instead, it comes as an imaginary sense that everything is possible, it creates the illusion of needing nothing. Thus, the power this drug has is changing the subject itself, and addiction seems to be the system with which this relationship between the subject and the drug-object works, and how it is constructed from the subject's imagination. Freud's research was previous to psychoanalytic theory, however, we can conclude a fundamental aspect when studying addiction and substance abuse: the drug-object comes as a powerful object from an imaginary construct. It is an illusion that arises from the sense the subject confers the narcotic, taking the place of psychic economy (Castaño-Peñuela & Gonçalves, 2014). Along this line, the drug is an object that masks that lack of a signifier in the symbolic world of a subject, that emptiness, making an illusion of full enjoyment, of unlimited pleasure. However, this imaginary construct belongs only to an imaginary order. Which means that eventually, the object's power comes to an end, the enjoyment is then ephemeral, and when the chemical effects wear off, the subject becomes vulnerable to the fragility of his own reality. Hence, addiction becomes this cycle of consumption, the subject jumps back in to the unlimited senses of pleasure and surrenders itself to the drug-object. Through this system, the subject seeks to heal or possibly cure a lack, which is not physical lack, but the lack of the signifier as we mentioned above. Sergio Staude (1998) states that addiction works as a "promise" of the subject to stay out of a state of emptiness, the drug-object is there to fill that emptiness that is generated from trauma, and that is presented in symptoms such as anhedonia, disinterest, or even depressive symptoms. All this being promoted by the capitalist discourse that the object of consumption is satisfying a desire, becoming an object of pure jouissance, the subject thus denying or repressing that "castration" that occurs in his early stages of life. Thus, the drug is what helps the subject to maintain an illusion of an ego-strength that does not really exist, but the desire to maintain it is what leads to addiction itself (Lutereau & Belucci, 2017).

Therefore, it can be stated that the forces that drive consumption to obtain pleasure are equally intense in the search to avoid pain or suffering of the being. "The presence of an incessant search for bliss, happiness, pleasure, satisfaction; and with the same force, the suppression of pain and sorrows. On the other hand, we can observe how this quest has led the human being to use the most varied methods that imply the alteration of the sensations, of the perception of reality, and especially of what we feel, for which an (easy) way has been intoxication" (translation of Velosa, 2009, p. 115). Within the search of consuming the drug-object is precisely where we find a subject's attempt to escape; a response to pain, to the subjective division or in general to avoid a subjective discomfort.

On the other hand, it suggests as well that the subject seeks in any way to strengthen his ego, especially in the image of the Other. The drug-object "serves" the subject to create a kind of fortress that is actually non-existent. This "fortress" falls when the effect of the substance ends and that is why he continuously seeks to consume it. The substance also serves to create a barrier against the external, since the external, or reality, can be a threat to his illusive state of power. Hence, the subject unconsciously defends himself from that which is a threat to his ego. The subject seeks to satisfy his desires and thus creates a bond with the object. When this is intensely deepened, the objectivity of the drug changes towards a subjective state. The substance, the drug-object, ends up being subjective since it corresponds to the personal needs and desires of the subject (Lutereau & Belucci, 2017). For example, it happens in adolescence that the drug-object becomes a subjective symbol of the sense of belonging to a social group and therefore, its use is tied to this cause, and the real phenomena is masked.

Figure 3: Self-Portrait (Cahun, 1925).

Lutereau and Belucci (2017) define the drug-object as a restitutive value for the subject, just as delirium is in the case of psychosis. The substance can be considered as a restitutive value of those faults or voids in the subject's life. This is an act or a denomination of the substance that is formulated by the subject himself and is clearly unconscious of it. The subject does not know that it is unconsciously giving a replacement to that which is missing in the subject's life or which was once missing. For the individual, the drug is that which treats his emptiness of meaning. The drug-object then, becomes the "central anchor point" in the consumer's life as this is what keeps him feeling "good", as long as the chemical effects are doing their required function.

When there is a threat to the self, it does not necessarily have to come from external stimuli. Although situations external to the subject is what leads him to consume, the individual structure of the subject is what can be more threatening, a product of those events that the person was living. The subject decides to evade the constant existentialist question of the human being and this is done by replacing it with the successful enjoyment generated by the drug-object. It happens then that the subject feels that they have a strengthened and empowered self to which they use every time they can avoid reality. This is what they call subjective fragility, avoiding to open that base of fragility that the subject's structure possesses. The main issue is that jouissance is not truly successful in the illusion of all-pleasure, and it is dangerous for the subject to become aware of this (Lutereau & Belucci, 2017).

Within psychodynamics, it is understood that any act from the subject has a purpose, even if they are unconscious. These unconscious variables determine certain behaviors that can become maladaptive to the subject. Since childhood, these variables construct the subject's personality in a way that satisfies the basic needs or the instincts of the child and his core experiences. Addiction seems to happen when a subject's childhood stages develop into the constitution of a personality that seeks shelter within the imaginary order of consumerism, an object is needed when reality becomes overbearing for the self. In this case, drugs exert a determined function in accordance to the psychic need the subject requires, functions that in normal development would be operative or potentially operative without such object. Thus, the drug can function as a barrier to the Other, to the stimulus, and thus prevent the interruption of tranquility, or in more accurate words, reality. The therapist's work is based on the intervention of making a "subjective transformation" in the patient, to change this psychic dynamics, and abstinence becomes a secondary objective. Under this "new" perspective, the subject can have other centers, another axis from which to evolve, rather than the drug-object (Velosa, 2009).


Addictions today come in many shapes and forms. We may not only think of drugs or other chemical substances when we think of addictions in this post-modern era. The drug-object, then, extends into other objects from our culture, such as social media, internet or television, gambling, etc. However, psychoanalysis' perspective on addictions is not based on the object excessively consumed. The theory aims to understand the dynamic happening between the subject and the object of desire. This relationship is built on a system in which the object is never the "true" object from the infant's experience. Such experience, such signifier, is lost consequence of castration, and so there is always a lack in his symbolic order. However, when presented with the imaginary form of the object, the object becomes a drug. Why is it that society today is based on generalized addictions? When a society is built on a discourse that attempts to give a sense of illusive satisfaction, a sense of not being a barred subject that lacks, people will endlessly search for such satisfaction.

Bibliographical References

Castaño-Peñuela, Angela María, & Gonçalves, Marlene. (2014). Contributions of psychoanalytic theory to understanding drug addiction. SMAD. Revista eletrônica saúde mental álcool e drogas, 10(3), 126-134.

Freud S. (1884). On cocaine. Barcelona: Anagrama Publishing House; 1884.

González de Rivera, J.L. (1993). Psicopatología psicodinámica de la drogodependencia

Lacan J. (1964). Del Trieb de Freud y del deseo del psicoanalista. Buenos Aires Escritos 2. Versión Folio Views.

Lutereau, L. y Belucci G. (2017). El Objeto-droga y sus destinos Revista Científica UCES. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Olivera, C., Oppedisano, P., Fiocca Solimei, Laura Andrea y Barrera, Concepción Esmeralda (2011). LA EFICACIA DE LA PSICOTERAPIA PSICODINÁMICA EN EL TRATAMIENTO DE LAS DROGADEPENDENCIAS. III Congreso Internacional de Investigación y Práctica Profesional en Psicología XVIII Jornadas de Investigación Séptimo Encuentro de Investigadores en Psicología del MERCOSUR. Facultad de Psicología -Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires.

Velosa, J. (2009). Las toxicomanías: Algunas consideraciones críticas sobre cómo se

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Gabriella Yanes

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