The depressive roots of addiction in adolescence are discussed in relation with two clinical cases. The picture of narcissism, objectal attachment, oedipal process and a particular form of affective disturbance in adolescence called depressiveness, are described in psychodynamic manner.
At the psychiatric examination, the patient was un-cooperative, keeping tenacious silence, avoiding eye contact and adopting a sombre face expression. He refused any intervention on the part of the psychiatrist, whom he reproached the intention of making him a fool. The patient’s ulterior evolution was troublesome. He ran away from home in order to go to monastery and then wanted to study at the Faculty of Theology, but both projects failed. He took a job as a worker in a factory, where the contact with alcoholic peers proved to be fatal, since he also became an alcoholic. An unhappy marriage made him sink into depression and addiction even deeper, and, eventually, he was destroyed by hepatic cirrhosis.
Together with problems of learning, the patient started to miss from school following his association with a group of peers situated at the margin of the school community. At home, under his grandmother’s helpless eyes, the patient surrounded himself with literature and TV programmes centred on extremist characters and events, and the room started to be impregnated with the smell of volatile drugs such as those contained in the solvent for lacquers. The school performance worsened and the violent conflicts with his mother, who, during the short visits at home, was desperately trying to redress him, became more and more noisy and irreconcilable. In his last year of the secondary school, together with the group of outsiders whom he used to frequent, he started to consume agricultural cannabis, which caused a global failure of intellectual and decisional functions and thus he entered into a major affective marasmus of depression with psychotic manifestations.
The adolescent may feel betrayed in his most precious affective investment, namely the maternal one. The drama becomes acute in families where the oedipal process is blocked by the disappearance of one of the parents, and the whole psychic economy of affective attachment is redirected towards the surviving parent. The young person cannot afford another loss after the one suffered by the amputation of oedipal relationship because that would mean to cut the last root that fixes the Ego into the soil out of which it takes its nutriment. If this situation still occurs, the conditions are met for the appearance of an affective state homologous with the adult’s depression. We name it similar and not identical because in adolescents, some criteria are missing or others may replace them. That is why, at this age, the term used adequately would be that of depressiveness, which has a dynamism of its own, but unfortunately, most of the time it may be hopeless.
Addiction appears more frequently than a fracturing of existence, by juvenile suicide, or by sustainable detour of the energies of the Self. In the case of addiction, the recourse to the help of an external object proves the fund of narcissistic fragility, the failure of the negotiations between the Self and the Other, between the narcissistic gratification and the objectal one. The too powerful pulsional tension does not find sufficient internal defences In order to keep away at a distance the embarrassing feelings resulted from the „burns” of the unconsciousness. The subject cannot „walk” without aid. The addiction establishes a short-circuit of satisfaction. There is a lack of ludic space, of transitional objects, of a realm of illusions. Nevertheless, the offer that the drug makes is a surrogate and the manufactured aid of the absence works only in circumstances of total dependency. By the latter, the anxiety is calmed down, the wound is sutured and the haemorrhage of sadness is stopped, but with the price of the impossibility to take the dressing off. The solution of addiction belongs to the class of limit of endurance, where the picture is dominated by identity uncertainty. Addiction tends to maintain the illusion of the permanence of an object, which is no longer there, and which the subject could not interiorize.
The same way as in adult, the detoxification cures are followed by relapses if the depressive abscess is not removed, in adolescents the approach of addiction should start with restructuring meant to compensate the losses that have led to the accumulation of depression.
Summing up the problem succinctly, one may declare that the adolescents face a heightened difficulty in leaving the narcissistic registry of investments in order to enervate the internal conflicts. The prosthetic function of the product does not prevent them from distancing from the object, but neither too far, nor too near, in the end, the dialectics of the dynamic relationship between the narcissistic investment and the objectal one proves to be particularly resistant to any influence. We must point out again this particular economy of the pathologic addiction to the drug, which is always implied in the massive consumption of toxic products such as alcohol and cannabis. What is missing is not the object itself but a Third one, which might allow the transformation of the addiction to the object into an inter-subjective relationship of autonomy in desire. As it was shown above, addiction tends to maintain the illusion of the permanence of an object that is not there and of a subject, which it could not internalise. In other words, it is a negation of the loss. Addiction indicates in all cases that the psychic process of mourning after the object did not take place. A depression is left, which could not tell the name, which the subject is fighting against and which the addiction is hiding. The trial of separation from the object brings along the risk that the subject feels he/she is in an objectal void. Since nature hates the void, the therapeutic solution is not without risk if it limits itself to the abandon of the abusive consumption. Therefore, the treatment of addiction passes through that of depression, which is sub-adjacent to it. To enable the patient to face depression is the necessary condition to move from need to desire.
- Marcelli Daniel: Tratat de psihopatologia copilului. Translation. Ed. EFG, 2003.
- Marty, François: Dépendance et depréssion à l’adascence \n Revue Roumaine de Psychanalise no. 1/2008.
- Mircea, Tiberiu: Tratat de psihopatologie și sănătate mintală a copilului și adolescentului, vol. I, 2004.
- Wilmshurst, Linda: Psihologia copilului, Translation. Ed. Polirom, 2001.
Alexandru Trifan ‘Viaţa Medicală’ Magazine Ion Brezoianu str. no 27, 2nd floor, Bucharest, p.o. 010131