How addiction changes everything

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs VS. Hierarchy of Addiction

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Content: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

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How Substance Abuse Affects the Hierarchy of Needs

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Maslow’s Hierarchy is a theory of the needs that make up an individual’s life.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is illustrated as a pyramid, and on each level of the hierarchy are our physiological, security, social, self-esteem, and self-actualization needs. 

You might be wondering what this has to do with addiction. Unfortunately, if you happen to find yourself in active addiction to drugs or alcohol, your hierarchy has most likely been turned upside down. 

During active addiction, drugs and alcohol can little by little become a top priority over your basic needs as a human, including survival needs.

When drugs and alcohol come first, the rest of your needs can begin to fall away, and you can find yourself neglecting your basic needs for food, shelter, and relationships.

For example, some will allow themselves to be homeless to ensure they can continue using drugs or alcohol. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy has been around since 1943 and is a helpful model to explain exactly what addiction affects our motivations toward our needs.

Empowering You with Knowledge

Watch the Video to learn more and how addiction corrupts your loved one's hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Illustration

Many People Who Abuse Drugs Like Heroin & Crystal Meth Become Homeless Due to Their Drug Seeking Behaviors

Level One: Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are the basic needs of survival. This includes food, water, shelter, air, and sleep. These are the needs that come first. If your physiological needs aren’t being met, then you most likely will not care to meet the rest of your needs, and who could blame you?

Having a safe place to live and rest your head at night is very important. Addiction eventually can take the place where you live away from you. As addiction progresses and gets worse, many find themselves homeless.

For example, your family may get tired and kick you out of their home because you will not stop using drugs and alcohol.

If you live alone, you may end up spending your rent money so that you are able to get high. In both cases, you could find yourself homeless. The good thing about entering drug and alcohol treatment is that this level is immediately met, so that you can start to recover and restore your other levels.

Many who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction never imagined that their drug and alcohol addiction would take them by the hand and lead them on a path to homelessness, but it does frequently happen.

Level Two: Addiction Affects the Need for Security

Security needs are needs that make you feel safe from harm. At this level, the need to belong and feel a part of a community is also very important. This level includes safety from the elements, good standing with the law, and stability of life in general.

Being addicted to alcohol and drugs can completely strip away this level. As the addiction progresses, this level can go completely unfulfilled. 

For example, if you are using illegal drugs and alcohol, then it is a good guess that you would not feel safe in terms of the law. On the contrary, you would feel in opposition to it.

Safety also includes being out of harm’s way. When you are involved in an active drug and alcohol addiction, you may find yourself hanging out with unsafe people. You also put yourself at risk each time you meet up with a drug dealer to purchase drugs.

Stability is something that addiction completely takes away as it progresses. Before addiction, you may have had a life that had some semblance of order in it. Perhaps you held a job, had friends, had hobbies, and paid your bills. Addiction has a way of almost burning this level to the ground.

Level Three: Corrupting the Need to be Belong & Feel Loved

Level three of Maslow’s Hierarchy is love and belonging needs. This level is the one that will hurt your family and friends the most. When you no longer care about your relationship with your family and friends, it is a good sign that alcohol and drugs have taken over.

You may even begin to steal, lie, or cheat family and friends. When you begin to do this, little by little, you can damage your relationships – some permanently. Relationships with family and friends should never take a backseat to drugs and alcohol, but that’s exactly what addiction can do.

Drugs and alcohol can sometimes lower our standards, and you may begin to find a sense of belonging with the people that you use drugs and alcohol with. These types of relationships are, obviously, not healthy. 

Unfortunately, as time goes on, you can grow accustomed to hanging out and being around these bad influences. Your love and belonging needs are very important, but you must love and belong to the right kind of people.

When you come to treatment, you will learn a new way, and you can repair some of the relationships you have damaged due to drugs and alcohol, especially with your family.

Level Four: How Addiction Negatively Influences Our Loved One's Esteem

The fourth level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is the esteem level. This level is split into two categories, esteem for oneself and esteem for others. If you are currently amid an addiction, it can slowly become impossible to keep healthy self-esteem or esteem for friends and family.

The things that bring us self-esteem are achievements, dignity, mastery, and independence. Abusing drugs and alcohol severely negatively affects things that bring us self-esteem. Achievements are likely to fall by the wayside; you can easily lose your dignity when you begin doing things you never thought you would do to get alcohol or drugs.

Esteem for others also suffers. Appreciating the people you love when caught in drug addiction is rare. You may even begin to do things that harm your loved ones to get high.

The priorities at this level are flipped upside down, but there is hope. As a treatment center, there is nothing better than seeing our patients go out into the real world and regain their dignity, appreciate and care for their loved ones again, and make important achievements in their life.

Get the Right Type of Treatment that Suits Your Loved One's Needs

Level Five: Self-Actualization

Self-Actualization is to become the best person that you can be. It is carrying out and fulfilling your purpose in this life. Self-Actualization is the highest need of a human being and unfortunately cannot be taught.

With the other levels being met, there is a good chance that an individual will reach their need for self-actualization. Obviously, addiction can take this one completely out of the picture. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Social Service Research concluded that a lack of purpose and aim in life is connected to drug and alcohol addiction.

Self-Actualization needs also have to do with spirituality and his why many find church or 12-step meetings helpful, they can put one on the path to finding their purpose in the community of recovery and many derive a sense of purpose by helping others as well.

By climbing back up the hierarchy, usually starting in treatment, we can reach each one of these levels one by one. Addiction does have a way of destroying lives and leaving people feeling depressed and purposeless; recovery has a way of getting them back on the horse and moving forward to getting all needs met.


Exploring Impartial Resources

Getting information that you can trust in is difficult to come by in this day and age. It is vital to know where your information is coming from and whether or not it is a source you actually trust. Knowledge is power and when it comes to substance abuse treatment, our patients and their families need reputable resources that are unbiased, not funded by organizations that could benefit from certain outcomes, and proven or tested to be effective. We pride ourselves on providing knowledge from reputable sources that are up to date and relevant. Checkout the list below to learn more about where ABTRS got their information for this webpage.


[1] McLeod, S. A. (2017). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from

[2] NIDA. (2018, July 20). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from on 2019, February 13

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