It’s Time To Give Up the Addict Identity And Become Who Or What You Want To Be


Escaping from active drug and alcohol addiction involves more than just giving up and stopping the physical consumption of alcohol and drugs. The addict will also need to give up, amend or develop a certain parts of their own identity.

For years, the addicts life will have revolved around acquiring and using substance (both drugs and alcohol). This will have impacted not only how they view the world around them, but also how they see themselves.

When they give all this up, it will often leave a hole in their life. Those who carry their “addict identity” with them into recovery often struggle to find success away from their addiction. One of the hardest challenges for people in early sobriety/abstinence is to build a new identity for themselves which doesn’t revolve around substances.


Finding A New Identity In Recovery From Addiction

In psychology the word identity refers to the distinguishing character or personality of an individual. This is not something that remains static, but traits and behaviours that constantly adapt to the change in the individual’s environment, circumstances and situations. There are many different types of identity including but not limited to:

  • Cultural identity
  • National identity
  • Class identity
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation identity
  • Financial identity
  • Professional/vocational identity
  • Social identity
  • Religious identity
  • Peer group/friendship identity
  • Interests/hobbies/clubs or groups identity
  • Educational identity
  • Familial identity

Most individuals manage to incorporate a multitude of identities into their daily life. This way they are able to behave one way at work and another way when relaxing with friends. Identity is never fixed, and an individual may have a self image in later life that is vastly different than their self image in their teens.

It’s like playing with children’s play dough, you can take a bit of green, blue, red and yellow play dough, which when combined together at the end, provide a holistically creative model or statue which has a rainbow pattern scattered throughout.

If we hadn’t used a variety of different pieces/colours, we wouldn’t have ended up with the beautiful end result that we have.

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The Addict Identity

Those individuals who develop an addiction tend to adopt a certain type of identity. This new self image is often influenced by other substance users. The “addict identity” can involve different ideas, beliefs, motivations, and behaviours such as:

  • The idea that clean and/or sober people are dull or boring
  • The priority in life is getting high or drunk
  • Certain styles of clothing are associated with the addict identity
  • A high tolerance for sexual promiscuity
  • The belief that substance use makes people more creative
  • The idea that certain types of music can be associated with substance use
  • Willingness to use dishonesty or commit a crime in order to achieve a goal
  • Distrust of addiction and mental health professionals
  • The belief that achievements should be celebrated by through the consumption of substances
  • The belief that substance use provides comfort and reassurance when life gets bumpy
  • An “us against them” bond among groups of addicts
  • An addict-specific sense of humour (sometimes referred to as gallows humor or dark humour)
  • The belief that nonconformity and criminality is respectable
  • A dislike of law enforcement, Judges and prison officers ect
  • Avoid taking some form of pride in your personal hygiene or appearance

Dry Drunk Syndrome

If you’ve quit drinking alcohol or using drugs, but are still struggling with the negative and destructive attitudes, thoughts and feelings as you did during active addiction, you may be dealing with what’s called “dry drunk syndrome” (DDS) also known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

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A common reason relapse after a period in recovery is that the individual has failed to let go of their addict identity. Those who hold on to this identity, but do not relapse develop dry drunk syndrome.

Such an individual will no longer be drinking or using drugs, but their life will remain the same in many ways compared to when they were in active use. Theirs is a type of white knuckle sobriety in which they treat life away from addiction as being similar to a prison sentence.

White-knuckling means you are going it alone, and you have no solution for your alcoholism or drug addiction.

White-knuckling your abstinence/sobriety means you are trying to manage your addiction without help. You are relying on your willpower alone, or trying to fix yourself just with your mind.

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These individuals will be unable to find true happiness and stability away from active addiction until they establish a new identity for themselves that includes elements from various recovery strategies including things like mindfulness, relaxation techniques, fellowship/meetings, sponsors, journaling, learning about triggers, cravings and temptations plus others.


12 Step Programs & The Addict Identity

Twelve-step programs are mutual aid organisations for the purpose of recovering from physical substance addictions, behavioural addictions and compulsions. Developed in the 1930s, the first twelve-step program was Alcoholics Anonymous, which aided it’s membership to overcome alcoholism. Now there are many others for drug addicts and also groups for the family members or friends of addicts.

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12 Step programs have been criticised in the past for reinforcing the addict identity. Members are encouraged to think of themselves as “recovering addicts”. Sobriety and abstinence is treated in the same way as remission from any incurable, lifelong health condition with the understanding is that the individual could relapse at any time.

The problem is that the individual’s sober/clean self image is still tied up with alcohol or drug use. Some people who break away from programs like AA or NA claim they want to give up the addict identity as well as the substance use. Members of 12 Step groups would claim that such criticisms are unfair and that the program helps many people achieve lifelong abstinence and saved many lives along with it.

Other complaints that are made about addiction groups in general, including fellowship meetings is that they feel that these groups only talk about addiction or substance use which causes cravings or temptations to use or drink, making recovery even harder.

However, many of the long term members of these meetings will tell you that without it, they’d still be in active addiction or dead. You may find that discussions about substance use is spoken about in these meetings by those who are new to them and are still either actively using/drinking or recently stopped. Yet when you hear from those who’ve been clean and/or sober for longer periods of time, they don’t mention substance use once. For them it’s now the struggles of life and seeing life from an addict mindset/point of view that are their issues and not directly substances.


Our Top 10 Tips To Escape The Addict Identity

The fact that identity is not static means that it is possible to get beyond this self image. The addict identity can be so ingrained that the individual will need to actively seek to escape it. The following make this more likely to happen:

  1. People in recovery need to avoid their old drinking and drugging affiliates, who will only draw the individual back to the addict identity.
  2. The individual needs to decide the type of person they want to become. They can then take measures that will help that identity to develop.
  3. Joining a recovery fellowship or other meetings can allow the individual to build a new network of clean and sober friends. These friends can help the individual establish a new self image that does not revolve around substance use.
  4. Making use of resources such as recovery literature, Drink ‘n’ Drugs addiction management strategies, mindfulness techniques and coping skills, and sobriety/abstinence based websites can help to change their views and their perspective on life.
  5. Learning new more effective coping mechanisms to help the individual interact with the world more effectively whilst minimising the risks surrounding a lapse/relapse.
  6. Avoiding certain types of music, movies, videos or articles that the individual associates with drug or alcohol use may help in early stages of recovery to reduce cravings and urges.
  7. Honesty is important for people who are hoping to build a new life away from addiction. The most important person that people have to be honest with is themselves. This involves understanding how addicts justify their behaviours to themselves and others.
  8. Helping others in recovery and volunteering can have an impact on self image. It is also a great way to strengthen sobriety/abstinence.
  9. Understand that life in recovery is all about experimenting and trying new things. These experiences will become part of the individual’s new self image.
  10. Enjoy the new life that you’ve found in recovery. It’s not supposed to be boring or rigid, it’s meant to be fun and enjoyable!

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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