Dissociation & Addiction


Addiction can be viewed as a form of dissociation. The dissociative states are depersonalization, an individual’s separation from a sense of personal identity, and derealization, a detachment from reality, or the external environment. Through addiction there is a separation, an estrangement from both self and environment. It is as though the addiction places a buffer between the person and their identity, and between the person and the rest of the world. Observing the existence of emotion, Carl Jung stated that, “emotion is not an activity of the individual but something that happens to him or her.” The ego is essentially necessary for the existence of personality.

The ego discerns what psychological experience or information is to be conscious or relegated to the shadow, distant from awareness. The ego is what sorts through and categorizes the tolerable from intolerable in terms of psychological content. However, if dissociation is occurring, then the individual’s perception of what they can tolerate is actually a facade because the addiction is masking and convoluting the individual’s perception and sense of self.  Addiction allows for intolerable experiences to be kept out of awareness. In this way, dissociative states develop and are reinforced through the process of addiction.  The estrangement from the environment and from one’s identity depicts dissociation is often sustained through addiction, which cause a continuous relegation of psychological content to be diverted towards the shadow; an occurrence that is continuous and is maintained through the continued engagement of addiction.

Addiction allows for the ego to remain seemingly functional, existent in a false belief of volition. The intolerable psychological content is still being experienced, but it is being diverted to the shadow within the unconscious. What happens then when the dissociative process is disrupted after the individual stops using?  This process will shift dramatically, and the ego may then find itself flooded by material that it is perhaps unprepared to manage.

Once no longer using drugs or alcohol, the ego may be overwhelmed by emotions, memories, or thoughts and sensations that it had previously been able to relegate to a dark corner and not look at. The crucial point to take home is that within the addictive process, dissociation is harboring a deluge of emotional material that has been fermenting, waiting for a way past the gatekeeper, or the ego.  As unconscious content begins to seep into awareness, dissociation tendencies and their role on the impact of emotion through the addictive process becomes more evident. As the ego attempts to maintain its control and perspective, more and more material is then relegated into the unconscious, fermenting and held within the shadow. This makes the ego more vulnerable to the energy of the unconscious, and by attempts to maintain a sense of balance; the unconscious content is brought into the ego’s awareness through symptomology.

The psyche attempts to maintain equilibrium, a homeostatic state. In order to maintain that sense of homeostasis, the unconscious will offset the psychological imbalance by unbinding thoughts that have accumulated over time. The individual is striving to avoid such content, resulting in a psychological tension that inevitably causes symptomatic reactions.  It is the projection of one’s thoughts which separates the individual from the environment.  Aspects of the self are then interpreted as something separate and other, rather than being a part of the individual.  In the case of addiction, many addicts therefore necessarily suffer from disorders of the self, leaving them fractured rather than whole.  The process of addiction recovery, healing the spiritual, mental & physical aspects of the self, restores the balance.

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