As a journalist in sobriety, I explore the scientific, evidenced
based research related to addiction. I spend
my professional time thinking about what addiction is,
and how it affects our brains, our psychology, and our
lives. But as a regular person in recovery, I’ve struggled
with my identity as an “addict”. And to be honest: How
many “normal” people that you know really give a hoot
Since I’ve started the journey of recovery, I have
learned to examine life a little differently. I try to examine
situations from many perspectives; and I choose to
focus on what I CAN influence. In this segment, I’d like
to remind you (shock you?) that others may not really
care about issues related to substance abuse. And to
suggest that you may want to change the way you discuss
addiction socially. Following is a short exploration
on how to respond authentically when it comes to discussing
addiction. I hope that this can serve as starting
point for you, and invite your feedback at the end!
STEP 1: Get informed about drugs and the
At its core, addiction is understood to be a brain disease.
Current theories hold that addiction is triggered
by biological and environmental factors. Still, the experts
(mainly psychiatrists and psychologists) continue
to evolve the definition of addiction, its diagnosis, and
proper treatment. With such a wavering understanding,
addiction is simply difficult to talk about in the first
So, I would first suggest that you dig into the science of
addiction. Understand how your drug-of-choice works
on the brain. Figure out its long term effects on the
central nervous system and body. Why spend time on
this? Digging into the neuro-biological reactions drugs
have on your system wizens you to the reasons people
use drugs in the first place (usually for psycho-emotional
effect). With increased understanding, you can
talk about the chemistry of addiction, which is totally
One note here: it’s difficult to keep up with shifting
trends in addiction science. And it can be overwhelming.
But I suggest a basic understanding of how psychoactive
drugs affect the brain mainly for yourself.
Knowing the difference between drug “tolerance” and
drug “dependence”, for example, is liberating. But, if
you want to dig deeper, information published by the
NIDA, NIAAA, SAMHSA, CASA Columbia, NCADD or
NCSADAD can be good places to start.
STEP 2: Determine your level of comfort
Anonymity is different for each person. And to put it
simply: why label yourself an “addict” or an “alcoholic”
in society? If it is important to your program for recovery…
do it! But not everyone is called to advocate for
addiction recovery. And that is OK.
I’ve found myself in awkward conversations (especially
in pairs or groups of “normies”) more times than I’d
care to admit. I’ve fallen into the trap of, “Oh, let me
tell you my recovery story,”…when all that was really
needed was for me to say, “I’ve been there, done that.”
Or, I’ve been so self-conscious that I’ve been vulnerable
to those that I should not have trusted.
The bottom line is that your shifting identity as someone
affected by addiction is very personal. Perhaps
you will find that your level of comfort with anonymity
changes with time. But however you perceive yourself,
know that it is just fine. Change is constant, and over
time, you can grow into and out of and back into identifying
STEP 3: Read the context of the social
Many people do not understand why or how other
people become addicted to drugs. And many people
are very poorly information about its development and
impact on our lives. But before you fall into any discussion
about addiction, I believe that it’s vital to assess
the context of the discussion. Some questions you
might ask yourself:
How personal is the topic to your audience?
Is your audience open to new ideas?
Is your audience processing hurt caused by addiction?
Will this discussion be shared with others?
When you assess your environment, your audience,
and their needs or limitations…you can deliver information
in a totally different way. Maybe a quick fact
about the need for addiction treatment is what the
discussion requires. Perhaps empathy and listening
is needed. Maybe recounting a recent news story or
trusted source of information would be helpful. In other
words, “telling your story” and relating to addiction
as someone in recovery may not always be necessary
or helpful. Instead, try to understand the perspective
of the other person…and react authentically as the
Identity in addiction recovery
It was important for me to “own” addiction in the early
years of my recovery. But as I age in experience and
in life, I find it less and less urgent to convince others
about the tenets of addiction. Instead, I take it easy. I
respond when and as needed to questions, opinions,
or concerns people have. I explore addiction in my
professional life and use what I learn to confidently
help people in the process.
I wonder how you feel about talking about addiction in
recovery? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
with your comments or feedback.