Substance Abuse From the Freudian View
How would therapists describe
substance abuse from the psychodynamic or Freudian view?
abuse would be described according to psychodynamic (Freudian) theory from a
developmental perspective. Psychodynamic theorists believe that people
vulnerable to substance abuse have powerful dependency needs that can be
traced to their early years. They claim that when parents fail to satisfy a
young child’s need for nurturance, the child is likely to grow up depending
excessively on others for help and comfort, trying to find the nurturance that
was lacking during their early years. If this search for outside support
includes experimentation with a drug, the person may well
develop a dependent
relationship with the drug which then leads to substance abuse.
Some psychodynamic theorists also believe that
certain people respond to their early deprivations by developing a substance
abuse personality that leaves them particularly prone to drug abuse. Personality
inventories and patient interviews have in fact indicated that people who abuse
substances or depend on drugs tend to be more dependent, antisocial, impulsive,
novelty-seeking, and depressive then other people. These findings are
correlational, however, and do not clarify whether such personality traits lead
to substance abuse or whether drug use causes people to be dependent, impulsive,
and so on.
Substance abuse study of men and
To better establish causation on issues of
substance abuse, one longitudinal study measured the personality traits of a
large group of nonalcoholic young men and then kept track of each man’s
development. Years later, the traits of the men who developed alcohol problems
in middle-age were compared with the traits of those who did not. The men who
developed alcohol problems had been more impulsive as teenagers and continued to
be so middle-age, suggesting that impulsive men are indeed more prone to develop
alcohol problems. Also, in a laboratory investigation, “impulsive” rats (those
who generally had trouble delaying their rewards) were found to drink more
alcohol when offered it than other rats who were judged to be less “impulsive“.
A major weakness in this line of reasoning is
that a very wide range of personality traits have had a high correlation to
substance abuse and dependence. Different studies, in fact, refer to different
“key” traits. Inasmuch as some people with a drug addiction appear to be
dependent, others impulsive, and still others antisocial, researchers cannot
presently conclude that any one personality trait or group of traits, stands out
as a main factor in substance-related disorders.
In summary, the psychodynamic theory has provided
a developmental view which may be helpful in understanding some of the specific
traits which have been found to correlate with the abuse of alcohol and other
substances. However, overall, this theoretical perspective has not provided much
assistance in the everyday treatment of substance abuse.
By Paul Susic MA Licensed
Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate (Health Psychology)
Abnormal Psychology by Ronald J.
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