Study shows the role of social identity in Addiction and Recovery

Researchers have recently published a study that supports the idea that social identity loss/gain informs both Addiction and Recovery. This study (it’s called Social Identities as Pathways into and out of Addiction) indicated that people slip into addiction as part of either an indemnity loss or an identity gain. The reverse is also true for recovery: people assume a recovery identity that aligns with their own defined best self and lose the former addiction identity. This idea of identity is as the heart of my own work; identity loss/gain depends largely on the value of a particular identity and change happens only when the preferred is at risk of being lost.

For example, when an adolescent lacks a sense that he or she “belongs,” this outsider identity can fuel negative self-images. These self-images lead to a need for both emotional numbing and an opportunity to join a group. For adolescents who are at-risk of addiction, these groups are formed by similar outsiders. This outsider identity then becomes cultural and shared values of both outsider-type mentalities and behaviors are then reinforced through the group.  Drug use is often one of those behaviors; substance use can then lead to Addiction. There is payoff in belonging to these outsider groups even if that membership becomes individually adverse. The idea of returning to the former social identity of non-belonging may not have the same value and would therefore not prompt a return towards that identity.

Further, if someone is allowed to have her social cake and eat it too, that person would probably not be motivated to change. That is, if someone maintains a harmful addict-identity while also acting within other social roles with no adverse consequence, there is no real reason to change the addict-identity. What’s really hard for people to understand is the value and payoff of an addiction identity. However, the hustle involved within an addict’s life can be just as addictive as a substance. Whether it makes sense to a non-addict or not, there is value in an addiction social identity and if that identity doesn’t manifest in adverse consequences, the value is only reinforced.

I do think the study provides evidence that social identity is a big part of both Addiction and Recovery. Please do check it out and understand it for yourselves. It will add to your own understanding of the Addiction lifestyle

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