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Addiction and Identity

Posted on February 7, 2019

One important part of addiction recovery is understanding how you think about yourself. In other words, discovering your identity. For some people, a significant impediment to staying in recovery–or even getting treatment in the first place–is that they don’t know who they are without their drug of (no) choice. An alcoholic, for example, might imagine his life without alcohol and feel like he doesn’t even know that person. This is especially true when he doesn’t have an accurate picture of his behavior when intoxicated. If someone imagines he’s funny and charming when he drinks, he’ll be less likely to give that up.  Emotional and spiritual emptiness can drive delusional thought patterns that keep a person stuck in their addiction.

The turning point can come when he realizes drinking has hurt his identity in some way.

If someone who has always thought of himself as friendly and helpful realizes he is actually obnoxious and violent when he drinks, the threat to his previous identity may convince him to get treatment. Sometimes this requires an extreme event, like being arrested for battery or a DUI. Some people are appalled to find themselves stealing. Whatever it is, if someone is strongly attached to his identity as a “good person” and sees addiction as a clear threat to that identity, he is more likely to get help. 

Once he gets treatment, his chances of staying sober are influenced by the extent to which he recovers his old identity or embraces an aspirational one.

That is, he may want to resume being the person everyone thought of as friendly and generous and he knows he’s not that person when he drinks. Or he may want to do something with his life that addiction would derail. Either way, if he identified strongly with that positive image, he has a better chance of staying sober. Confronting addiction and taking honest stock of one’s life can have a profound impact on a person’s willingness to change for good and for all.

If someone doesn’t have much of an identity to begin with, they may face trouble in recovery.

Someone with very little social connection may not have a strong identity, which is why isolation is a huge risk factor for addiction. His first real sense of social connection might come from people who are using. In that case, he begins to think of himself solely as an “addict” or “user.” It may be his only real identity, which is hard to give up. Someone in this class tends to seek help when even his peers think he’s out of control and reject him. Then, his recovery depends to some extent on whether he is able to find friendship and support in a treatment community. When others carry a message of depth and weight, it may be enough to encourage him to fearlessly face himself and replace his identity as a user. This is one reason why group therapy and the Fellowship found in 12-Step communities are so important–they offer accountability that supports a stable, healthy identity in recovery. 

Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

For information on our programs,
call us today: 561-841-1296