What is the Psychology Behind Addiction?

What brings on an addiction? Where does it come from? Why can’t an individual with an addiction stop? What compels someone to abuse substances? Very often, addiction is a response to an individual’s early life development problems. It is a coping mechanism.

Development Psychology

When a course of action almost works, it becomes difficult to give it up and try something else. For an individual with an addiction, the habit of substance abuse is a way to deal with whatever issues they’re having. Going to a support group meeting doesn’t seem nearly as effective to the individual.

Everyone’s early life and formative years are spent in circumstances not of their own choosing. A child has to adapt to the best of their ability, for emotional survival. When the child becomes an adult, there is much more freedom to act. However the adult is not rid of the traits developed in childhood. An individual’s self esteem and other basic feelings and convictions about themselves comes from early childhood, and are difficult to negate. It is in dealing with these emotions that an addiction may arise.

The Push for Help

Very rarely does an individual with an addiction decide to seek out help on their own. Typically the individual will reluctantly go to a therapist or to a support group or even to rehab, because the people around them have insisted they do so. Family or friends have pleaded with them to seek help. Or the individual gets into trouble with the law due to substance abuse, and the court orders therapy. Either way, the push for help comes from external sources and seldom from within.

The question remains why? Why will the individual not seek help on their own? One reason is that the individual cannot fathom another way to receive, what they perceive as the benefits of addiction. Another reason is that the individual distrusts other people, only finding solace in the substance.

Consequently, the individual with an addiction will not change on their own. Because the ramifications of substance abuse are insufficient to affect change. No matter how negative these ramifications may be, they will not alter the individual’s way of thinking or their perception. Rather, the individual becomes bitter and distrustful, and dives deeper into the negative behavior. There is no resulting desire to change.

Understanding the Psychology and Treatment

It is important to comprehend that the negative behavior of substance abuse is a substitute for taking direct, healthy action. Often, the addictive act comes about due to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. When the individual is indulging in substance abuse, it brings about feelings of control and empowerment.

When the individual is persuaded to enter treatment or therapy, it is up to the therapist to keep the above in mind, and show a genuine interest in the individual’s well being. The individual must feel safe to want to continue with the treatment and believe that it is the right course of action.

The psychological symptoms behind addiction can be understood and treated, as long as they are dealt with in the correct manner.


Recovery is hard work but you don’t have to do it alone. Call The Villa to find out how we can support your goals for sober living.