Six Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Sigmund Freud

Statue of Sigmund FreudAsk a random stranger to picture a famous psychotherapist, and the odds are good that they envision Sigmund Freud. The father of modern psychotherapy has made his way into the minds even of people who have no interest in therapy or psychology. It’s no wonder Freud has become a legend given his massive contributions to the field. But Freud was also a larger-than-life character, whose recommendations for sound mental health didn’t always match his own choices.

Freud Was a Cocaine Devotee

In the late 19th century, cocaine was marketed as a wonder drug that could cure everything from insomnia to epilepsy. The field of psychiatry now expends massive resources attempting to help people recover from drug addiction, but this wasn’t always the case.

Freud was a regular user of cocaine, and touted its ability to help users probe deeper into their unconscious minds. He even recommended cocaine as a cure for morphine addiction.

Freud Was Plagued by Health Problems

Freud once remarked, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” in response to questions about what his frequent cigar smoking meant about his own mental health. But in Freud’s case, cigars were a source of serious health problems. The famed psychiatrist reportedly smoked 20 cigars a day. He developed oral cancer in 1923, and underwent 34 operations prior to his death.

Freud May Have Killed Himself

Modern psychiatry expends massive resources attempting to cure depression and other mental health concerns that can lead to suicide. But in 1939, Freud took a lethal dose of morphine and died within hours. Although a 2004 journal article labels the choice physician-assisted suicide, some researchers have pointed out that high doses of morphine are standard practice for terminal patients even today.

Freud Ignored His Own Ethical Mandates

Contemporary psychotherapy places a heavy focus on confidentiality and neutrality. This is due at least in part to the standards Freud set in his publications. The father of modern psychotherapy didn’t always practice what he preached, though. A 1988 study found that Freud ignored anonymity standards in 100% of his cases. He also abandoned standards for confidentiality in 53% of cases, for neutrality in 86% of cases, and for avoiding extra-analytic relations in 72% of cases.

Freud’s Books Didn’t Make Him Rich

Freud’s works are now widely acknowledged to be among the most important in the field of psychiatry. His publishers didn’t recognize this importance, though. The Interpretation of Dreams earned him a measly $209—the equivalent of about $5,000 by today’s standards. The book wasn’t much of a hit, selling only 600 copies in eight years.

Freud Followed a Rigid Schedule

We’re quick to label those who follow rigid schedules obsessive-compulsive, but Freud himself followed a rigid and demanding daily schedule for 50 years. He got up at 7 a.m. each day, seeing patients from eight to noon. He had a regular lunch each day with his family, followed by a walk and a trip to the local tobacco store. Thereafter he saw patients again, retiring by nine or ten to write. His diary provides details of his daily activities, and places special emphasis on his tobacco purchases.


  1. Elkin, E. J. (1994/1995, Winter). More than a cigar. Cigar Aficionado. Retrieved from
  1. Freud’s book, “The Interpretation of Dreams” released. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  1. Lynn, D. J., & Vaillant, G. E. (1988). Anonymity, neutrality, and confidentiality in the actual methods of Sigmund Freud: A review of 43 cases, 1907-1939. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155(2), 163-171. Retrieved from
  1. O’Keefe, M. (n.d.). The assisted suicide of Sigmund Freud. Retrieved from
  1. Sigmund Freud’s cocaine problem. (2011, July 22). Retrieved from
  1. Sigmund Freud: Smoking habit, oral cancer, and euthanasia. (2004). Nigerian Journal of Medicine, 13(2), 189-195.

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  • Brenda

    April 19th, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    always so interesting to learn a little of the backstory, behind the myth of the man you know

  • lesley t

    April 19th, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    That seems so weird to me that someone would actually recommend that you use one powerfully addictive drug in order to cure the addiction to another?!? That’s just trading one bad habit for another. How long did it take people tp realize that hey, this guy may have some valid points but this is not one of them? I hope not too terribly long!!

  • Freud Books

    April 20th, 2014 at 5:06 AM

    Yet again with the ad hominem attacks. Freud has a last laugh on you as he already detailed the kind of assaults you launch against him.

  • Jason

    April 21st, 2014 at 3:36 AM

    I am fascinated with the history of this man who added so much to our current knowledge about mental health and yet still seemed to make some of the very human mistakes that all of us are prone to in our lives. While we can look up to him and thank him for the advances and studies that he helped make a possibility it is also important to remember that this is someone who is all too human and who will make the same human mistakes and poor judgement calls from time to time that any of us could make.

  • Layla

    April 22nd, 2014 at 3:37 AM

    oral cancer? that’s a rough one, i have seen that before and it destroys lives

  • Clarke

    April 22nd, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    There is still so much mystery behind the man who tried in a big way to open up the world of psychiatry to the masses. Funny how he wanted to pick the mindss of so many and determine what makes a human being tick but we wind up knowing very little about him besides his theories, not as much about him as a person. I always find this to be interesting because there are so many things that you can learn about someone and why they think the way that they do if you would simply take a little more time to get to know them for who they are, or were.

  • lex

    April 24th, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    isn’t his daughter famous too

  • Laney

    April 25th, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    I have always found it to be so confusing when there is so much difference in the things that people advocate for but then to see their own behavior in action can be a study in contrasts and contradictions! Sounds like Freud could have possessed a few of these differences too!

  • dean

    April 27th, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Does any of this really matter?
    I mean ultimately his work paved the way from great research and thought and discussion and how he lived his own life is irrelevant. It has little to nothing to do with how his work and advocacy changed the way that others started to feel about psychiatry and although the road may have been bumpy, it at least started more understanding and began making the conversations not as taboo as they once were.

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