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Addiction and Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

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By Ollie C

Published: November 2, 2020


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that was first published by Abraham Maslow in 1943 in the paper, “A Theory for Human Motivation.”

It is a level-based theory to describe the universal needs of people, starting with the most base level needs at the bottom and eventually building up to more complex emotional needs. Below is an explanation of the five different levels.

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are the most basic level of needs. These are all the things that humans need on a biological level to survive. This includes things like air, food, water, clothing, shelter, warmth, and sex.

These needs are at the bottom of the period because they are the most basic needs that the human body needs to function. If these needs are not met, none of the needs on the higher levels can be.

Safety Needs

Safety needs are the second level of needs. If a person’s physiological needs are satisfied, they can move on to making sure that their security and safety needs are met.

There are many different kinds of safety and security needs, and they all need to be met before a person can start getting their needs met for the next level.

Security and safety needs include emotional security, social stability, health, wellbeing, financial security, law and order, and freedom from fear. People naturally need some sort of order, control, and predictability.

Some of these needs are met by themselves, others by a familial unit, and others by society as a whole (police, schools, medical care, etc.)

Love and Belonging

Once both physiological needs and safety needs are all met, people move on to the third level of human needs, which is finding a sense of love, belonging, and the need for interpersonal relationships.

If someone has all of their physiological needs met and all of their safety needs met, they begin to be motivated by finding interpersonal relationships.

Things in this category include love, friendship, trust, intimacy, acceptance, affection (both giving and receiving), and being part of a group.

Esteem Needs

Esteem needs are the fourth level in the hierarchy. It is divided into two separate categories. The first is the esteem for oneself, which includes things like independence, dignity, achievement, and mastery.

The second is the desire for reputation and respect, which includes things like status and prestige. According to Maslow, children need respect and reputation more than they need real self-esteem and dignity.

Self-Actualisation Needs

The fifth and final level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualisation. Before you can get to this level, you have to meet all of the four of the previous levels.

This level includes realising your potential, self-fulfilment, and seeking both personal growth and peak experiences. This level can be narrowed down to very specific things for different people.

Some people may want to become the best parent; another may desire to have success economically, another academically, and another athletically. Some people may even express this level creatively through art or music.

Deficiency Needs Versus Growth Needs

The above needs provided in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be divided into two distinct categories. The first category is deficiency needs, and the second category is growth needs.

The first four levels of the pyramid (physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, and esteem needs) are all in the category of deficiency needs.

These needs come up due to some sort of deprivation and therefore motivate people to take certain actions and to make certain choices when they are unmet.

The motivation and desire to figure out how to get these needs met gets stronger the longer someone goes without them. For instance, the longer someone lives without food, the hungrier they get.

The other category of needs, growth needs, is made up entirely of the fifth tier or self-actualisation.

This level is not created by the lack of something but rather the desire to have something more, to grow, and to develop. This level helps people develop, learn good and healthy habits, and evolve.

You have to get the deficiency needs before you can get the growth needs, but both are very important. Your deficiency needs to help you survive, and function and your growth need to help you live a happy and healthy life.

The problem is drugs and alcohol abuse and addiction completely disrupts the entire hierarchy. People are willing to give up needs at all five levels in order to use drugs and alcohol.

Drug and alcohol addiction can even mess with other people’s hierarchy of needs. When someone in your family starts dealing with drugs or alcohol, you may have less safety and security, love and belonging, and even your physiological needs could be lacking.

Challenges to Recovery Due to an Imbalanced Hierarchy

Most people with addictions eventually get to the point where they want to recover, but that is not necessarily the point where they actually do recover because often, despite wanting to quit, people with addictions find it hard to stop drinking and control their compulsions.

This is the case because addiction is a disease and the chemistry of the brain actually shifts to where it requires the substance to operate normally.

When they try to quit, they experience a number of different physical and psychological symptoms that can make getting and sober hard and even dangerous.

Furthermore, when people have an imbalanced hierarchy, it can be hard to recover. When you do not feel safe, do not have enough food, do not have a support system, etc., it can be really hard and may even feel impossible to recover, but it is not.

Below you will find more information about how drugs and alcohol effects each level and then an explanation of how you can recover, despite the imbalances and disruptions on the hierarchy.

Addiction Corrupts Each Level

It is important to understand how addiction and drug and alcohol abuse affects each and every level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The disruption of the levels not only causes destruction in your life, but it can also make recovery harder. Below you will find an explanation of how addiction corrupts each level, starting from the top down.

Tier Five: Self-Actualisation

Self-actualisation is typically completely and totally out of the picture for those who deal with drug and alcohol addictions because the other four levels are not met, and they have to be before you can reach this level.

However, looking at it more specifically, self-actualisation is all about finding and achieving your purpose.

When someone has an addiction, they tend to have a lack of purpose as their only real goals are all connected to using a drug or drinking alcohol.

Often, self-actualisation has to do with spirituality, so once you start to get sober, it is a good idea to find a self-help group, a 12-step programme, or even start attending a church.

Many people find doing those sorts of things helpful in finding a purpose apart from drugs and alcohol.

Tier Four: Esteem

While drugs and alcohol may give you a short term boost of confidence, in the long run, alcohol and drug abuse can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.

This means you cannot meet the first category of this need because you do not have self-esteem for yourself. You also cannot meet the second category of esteem because, generally, it is hard to keep the respect of other people, especially those close to you, when you are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Furthermore, your addiction can damage this tier for those in your life as they may no longer feel appreciated or valued by you.

Tier Three: Love and Belonging

Often when you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, you drift away from the groups that you used to be a part of, whether they are your friends, family, or co-workers.

Often people with addictions start to cheat, steal, and lie. Doing this slowly begins to damage your relationships until you feel like you do not have a place to belong.

This can also damage your friend’s and family’s sense of love and belonging because they may believe that you value drugs and alcohol over your relationship with them.

Often any relationships you do keep will become toxic or unhealthy.

Tier Two: Safety and Security

When you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, you lose your sense of safety and security in many different ways. First of all, taking drugs or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is damaging to your health and safety alone.

Additionally, the things you have to do and the people you have to meet to get a hold of any drugs can be dangerous. Addiction can lead to the loss of all sense of safety, security, and order for you and your family.

It is hard to get a sense of stability back, but possible and necessary if you want to get sober and stay sober.

Tier One: Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are the most basic levels of needs required for survival, and even those can be damaged by drugs and alcohol.

A person with an addiction is often willing to put acquiring the substance of their choice above buying food, attaining clean water, or paying rent or the mortgage.

Friends and family may even kick you out if you do not stop using drugs and alcohol. Once you start recovery, you will need to work to get these needs met before you can move on to the rest.

Recovery is Difficult but Not Impossible

It can often feel like recovery is impossible, and though it is difficult, it is not impossible. It takes a lot of discipline and perseverance. You will need to start re-building your hierarchy.

A really great way to do this is to enter a rehabilitation programme of some sort. There are many different options, so you should be able to find one that works for you. The best programmes will help you rebuild all five levels of the hierarchy.

First, a recovery programme, especially an inpatient programme, will help you regain your physiological needs by helping you through detox in a safe way, as comfortable as possible.

After you are done detoxing, many programmes will put you on a specific food and exercise regimen to help your body recover and reach a healthy level.

You will probably be missing some key nutrients, and a healthy diet will be key in getting you to recovery.

Second, a programme will provide a new sense of security and safety. A programme will offer a sense of structure in your life that you lack when you are dealing with an addiction.

You will be able to carry over much of the schedule and habits you learn while you are in the programme to keep the same sense of security and safety once you leave the centre.

Third, rehabilitation programmes offer therapy so you can start to repair relationships that you have damaged and formed new ones with peers who are dealing with things similar to you.

The new support groups will be especially important in staying sober as you will be able to encourage and support each other with things get hard, which they will, particularly after you leave and enter the real world again.

Therapy will also help you rebuild your esteem. As you recover, you will be able to let go of feelings of shame and guilt and gain more confidence in yourself. You will also slowly start to regain the esteem and respect you get from other people as you recover.

Finally, recovery as a whole will help you get your last level of self-actualisation. After you finish rebuilding your other four levels, you will be able to start finding a purpose above and beyond your addictions.

Achieving this phase will really help you stay sober in the long run. No matter what your greater purpose ends up being, having one will give you the motivation to stay sober when it gets hard.



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By Ollie C

Ollie started writing for Rehab 4 Addiction over five years ago. Ollie has been in recovery for more than twenty years. Ollie contributes to a range of 12-step and non-step support groups both in London and across the United Kingdom.