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Personality Disorders & Psychoanalytic Models of Substance Abuse

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Millions of people suffer from addiction but there is no consensus on the cause of substance use disorders. In this lesson, we'll look at psychoanalytic theory and addiction and the correlation of certain personality disorders with substance abuse.

What is Substance Abuse?

Saffron is addicted to prescription painkillers. Without them, she feels lots of anxiety. She tends to behave impulsively and steal from her friends and family members. She also experiences severe mood swings. Sometimes the painkillers make Saffron feel better but sometimes they make her feel even more out of control.

Addiction involves being physically or psychologically dependent upon something, usually drugs or alcohol. However, sometimes people are addicted to other substances such as food. Some people are even addicted to activities such as exercise or having sex.

So why do people like Saffron become addicts? There are many different theories about the causes of addiction. Some claim that certain people are born with a gene that makes them more likely to become addicts. Others claim that substance abuse is a way of self-medicating for psychological issues caused by traumatic experiences. Still others claim that inherent personality traits might simply steer some people into addiction.

Psychoanalytic Theories

Saffron takes pills to deal with the pressures of life. But why does she feel so much anxiety about life when others do not?

Sigmund Freud was a famous psychologist and medical doctor. He founded psychoanalysis, a type of psychology involved with subconscious processes, or things that happen beneath the conscious surface of a person's mind. According to Freud, there are three aspects of every person: the id, superego and ego. The id is like a spoiled brat who is constantly seeking pleasure without thinking about the consequences. The superego is like a judge who is constantly thinking about what's right and wrong and keeping tight reins on behavior. The ego mediates between the id and the ego, trying to find a balance between the two.

Psychoanalytic theory looks at addiction as a problem in the balance between the id, superego, and ego. It's theorized that when the id overpowers the ego and superego, it can cause a person to take drugs and alcohol without thinking about the consequences. Conversely, if the superego takes charge, a person can feel a lot of anxiety, like Saffron does.

Freud believed that anxiety was a particularly strong emotion in some people, and that when people experience anxiety, they deal with it through defense mechanisms, like regression, repression and denial.

Today some psychoanalytic psychologists believe that substance abuse is a way some people deal with anxiety. Many addicts, for example, are in denial about having a problem. Freud might say, then, that Saffron's drug problem is a type of defense mechanism for her to deal with the anxiety that she feels.

Personality Disorders

Remember that Saffron doesn't only feel anxiety; she also experiences mood swings and acts impulsively. These might be signs that she has a personality disorder, or a psychological disorder involving maladaptive thoughts and behaviors.

Some personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, are closely linked to addiction. Research indicates that people, like Saffron, who have these personality disorders are much more likely to become addicts than other people.

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