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A Review Of Freud's Easy Remarks On Addiction: From An Ideal To Masturbation

The Letter, Issue 14, Autumn 1998, Pages 65 - 86


A REVIEW OF FREUD'S EARLY REMARKS ON ADDICTION:

FROM AN IDEAL TO MASTURBATION

Rik Loose


'...why isn't everyone a drinker?' de Mijolla and Shentoub

Introduction

It is a remarkable fact that there is no real substantial psychoanalytic theory of addiction, especially given that Freud had clinical experience of working with addicts.[1] This fact is even more remarkable when you know that one of Freud's first attempts to cure someone was his clinical intervention with his friend and colleague, Ernst von Fleischl-Marxov. Freud had hoped that cocaine could help his friend to get rid of an addiction to morphine. This attempt failed and eventually von Fleischl-Marxov died from a cocaine addiction.[2] Surely these clinical encounters must have aroused Freud's interest in the problem of addiction and provoked questions regarding its metapsychology? Freud had a curious mind and his theory and metapsychology was always developed on the basis of his clinical work with patients. There are numerous references to addiction in his writings, ranging from his pre-analytical period to the end of his life, which are interesting and important but it is nonetheless strange that he never wrote an article dealing exclusively with addiction. Despite the many references, we can still speak of a relative silence in Freud's work with regards to this clinical problem. Freud has developed elaborate theories on neurosis, perversion and psychosis. Why is there no such elaborate theory on addiction in his work? Are there any deep-rooted psychological motives in Freud that contributed to this neglect? These questions have been taken up by some authors and we do not propose to deal with them here.[3] It is well known that Freud's relationship to drugs was ambiguous. When Freud came across cocaine in 1884 he was immediately fascinated with it, particularly its therapeutic properties and he used it himself for a period of about ten years. He wasn’t really interested in alcohol and only occasionally drank some wine. Addiction problems in his practice and social environment irritated him. He was hopelessly addicted to smoking and nicotine. He smoked about twenty cigars a day. He needed cigars to work and lack of nicotine plunged him into a bad mood. When he was diagnosed as having cancer of the mouth he was informed that his smoking habit would kill him and on several occasions he was strongly advised by his physicians to stop smoking but he was unable to stop despite this medical advice.[4] From Freud's biographer Ernest Jones we know that for a long time Freud refused to take analgesics against the excruciating pain produced by the cancerous growth in his mouth. He likened taking drugs to the embracement of death. Freud's personal and professional ambiguities toward addiction perhaps contributed to the fact that there is no proper theoretical development in relation to addiction in his work. One can therefore not depend on a coherent theoretical foundation in Freud in order to construct a psychoanalytic theory and clinic of addiction. Nevertheless an exploration of remarks on and references to addiction throughout Freud's work show that there is a lot of material to work with and on which to reflect. For this paper we propose to concentrate on his pre-analytical period in order to show that this was a very interesting period of Freud's work, especially in relation to addiction. We will not include his papers on cocaine here as, in our opinion, they are so central to the development of his work and important for an understanding of a psychoanalytic approach to addiction that they warrant a separate exploration.


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