Skip main navigation

Psychological Models of Addiction

Psychological Models are a useful tool in understanding the unhealthy behaviours people are susceptible to from addiction. Psychological models hypothesise that substance addictions originate from psychological irregularities or abnormalities. The psychoanalytic models of addiction are associated with ‘self-medication’ theory - substance use is the individual’s attempt to ameliorate the emotional pain caused by trauma or ego deficits (Cavaiola, 2009).
© CQUniversity 2021

Psychological Models are a useful tool in understanding the unhealthy behaviours people are susceptible to from addiction.

What are the Psychological Models of Addiction?

Psychological models hypothesise that substance addictions originate from psychological irregularities or abnormalities.

Psychoanalytical Models

The psychoanalytic models of addiction are associated with ‘self-medication’ theory – substance use is the individual’s attempt to ameliorate the emotional pain caused by trauma or ego deficits (Cavaiola, 2009).

Sigmund Freud’s (1923) personality theory describes the human psyche as consisting of three parts:

The graphic shows an example of Personality Theory: ID "I need another drink!", Ego "But if you have another you won’t make it home" and Sugerego is judgement

  • the id – the primitive and instinctual part that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories
  • the super-ego – the moral conscience
  • the ego – the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.

Each part comprises unique features, yet they interact to form a whole, and each part contributes to behaviour. Psychoanalytic theories explain addiction as an imbalance between the id, superego, and ego. When the id overpowers the ego and superego, a person may take substances without thinking of the consequences.

Other Psychological Models of Addiction

Other psychoanalytic theorists explain addiction as intrapsychic conflict from an overly harsh superego. From this perspective, substance use represents a way of escaping anxiety, fear or rage. Other Neo-Freudians believe trauma underpins addiction and addictive behaviour develop as a way to cope with the trauma. This explanation finds some validity in the high correlation between post-traumatic stress disorders and substance use (Mills et al., 2006).

Psychopathology Models

Research has shown a correlation between addiction and types of mental disorders, including;

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct and other oppositional disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Anti-social, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.

Correlation does not imply causality, however, there are some instances where the self-medication hypothesis can also be applied to these models as causal agents. (Cavaiola, 2009).

Personality Models

This group of models explains addiction through personality variables and individual temperaments. These include:

  • high need for novelty-seeking
  • harm avoidance
  • reward dependence
  • low ego resiliency and poor ego control
  • low attention span
  • high emotionality and mood instability
  • low sociability and social withdrawal
  • low activity level
  • low flexibility (Cavaiola, 2009).

Female showing signs of high emotionality and mood instability

References
Cavaiola, A.A. (2009). Psychological models of addiction. In N.A. Roget & G.L. Fisher (Eds.), Encyclopaedia of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Mills, K.L., Teesson, M., Ross, J., & Peters, L. (2006). Trauma, PTSD, and substance use disorders: findings from the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(4), 652-658.
© CQUniversity 2021
This article is from the free online

Understanding Addiction

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education