The Psychology of Addiction

“Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain.” Eckhart Tolle

Most of the time, we engage in an addictive behavior to escape an uncomfortable emotion. Sometimes, it’s boredom. Sometimes, it’s fear. Sometimes, it’s anger. And the list goes on.

When the addictive activity is over, we feel even worse than when we start. A heavy emotion of regret sets in.

We’re disappointed in ourselves because of the calories we consumed, the time we wasted, or the harm we did to our bodies with tobacco, alcohol, or other recreational drugs.

When everything is over, we look for ways of overcoming our addiction. We make promises to ourselves.

We study new techniques to get over our addiction. And we become hopeful again that we’ll be able to eliminate that addiction from our lives. All of that lasts until the next time we feel the urge, and we repeat the whole cycle again.

Today, I want to share my understanding of the psychology of addiction. I believe that it will be helpful to understand yourself and to quit your addiction.

The Psychoanalytic School

When it comes to the human personality, I subscribe to the psychoanalytic school that asserts that one’s personality is composed of numerous, independent subpersonalities.

As a software developer, I like to call those programs, because that term is more comprehensible and less creepy to me.

At different moments, different programs are triggered and executed in our psyche. Those programs can be complete opposites of each other.

Think about a parent who is loving and kind to their child most of the time, but once they get angry, they act as if they’d hurt their child. Those two programs are the opposites of each other. Yet, they inhabit the same person.

The Analysis of Addictive Behavior

Even though the theory of independent subpersonalities sounds weird, they’re pretty much a reality of our psychology. And sometimes, one of those subpersonalities become so strong that they overpower the rest, including our rational mind. A subpersonality takes the control of the whole person. As a result, we act in a way that we regret later.

Once the addictive behavior is over the related subpersonality loses its grip on us. Other subpersonalities such as the critical subpersonality start taking the control again. And we feel regret, guilt, and shame.

You might be going through this vicious circle over and over and wondering what’s wrong with you. You might be wondering how come you repeat the same mistakes over and over.

Don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with you. This is a part of our human condition, and the psychoanalytic theory explains the addictive behavior very well in my opinion.


The lesson we can learn from this discussion is twofold.

We should stop blaming ourselves when we act irrationally or give in to temptation. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the responsibility. That’s something else, but blaming ourselves and feeling guilty make the problem only worse.

Second, we should expect those programs to get triggered again and learn how to manage them so that they don’t take over our whole psyche again. I’ll share a technique to do that in tomorrow’s post.