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Did you know that addiction involves a change in your identity, and that successful recovery requires a further change? 

Identity can involve various facets that make up who you are. You may have the identity of belonging to a certain culture, age group, or profession. You may view yourself as a parent, business owner, college student, or struggling artist. But somewhere along the way, your addiction occupied the main stage of your identity. 

Two Paths to the Identity of a Substance User

According to a study on Social Identities as Pathways into and out of Addiction, the identity you gain from a substance use disorder may result from one of two typical paths. You may have grown up with a healthy sense of yourself and became addicted to drugs or alcohol through recreational use. In this instance your positive sense of self gradually became overshadowed by an identity of addiction. Your drug or alcohol use pulled you into a circle of other substance users who welcomed the addicted version of you. However, you may never have cared about the healthier version of you. 

If, however, you came from a psychologically unhealthy childhood characterized by abuse or loneliness, you may have turned to drugs for comfort or escape. In the process, you gained a group of friends you never had before. You identified with this group with whom you shared some real aspects of life – difficult circumstances, frustration, sadness, or anger. 

The Turning Point to an Identity in Recovery

Whichever of these two paths you came from, recovering from dramatic circumstances required a life-changing decision. In some way, you hit bottom and a moment of clarity causes you to realize that your mortality is more important than maintaining your identity. Your addiction-driven identity is going to cost you a major loss if you continue on that path. This loss could be your health, robbing your child of a caring parent, the destruction of an intimate relationship, or the demise of your career. You realize when you step beyond your addicted lifestyle, it’s enough to give you the realization that you need to change. It’s also enough to motivate you to seek help. 

Once you begin recovery, you begin to develop a new identity, one of a person seeking hope who will do what it takes to get better. As you progress in recovery, your identity will evolve based on one of the two roads your travelled. If you started with a positive self-concept before addiction, you will reclaim that identity and move forward with your life. Pursuing the goals you once had before your substance use interrupted your life path is more likely. If your addiction developed as a way to cope with an unhappy childhood, you will need to discover your strengths, interests and capabilities to develop a new healthy identity. 

The Importance of Social Support for Your New Identity

In both cases, studies show that a healthy identity in recovery happens through strong, positive social support. Research has confirmed that support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide peer bonding and role models for sobriety, as well as an opportunity to provide service to others. These experiences, along with other benefits of 12-step programs, contribute to a healthy sense of identity. 

Twelve-step programs such as AA and NA also can help individuals break free of an identity based in codependency, according to a study on identity transformation through substance use recovery. A person develops a codependent personality when they rely on an external source of validation for their feeling of self-worth. This often comes from growing up in a home with controlling parents and a set of oppressive rules that prevent open discussion of feelings and interpersonal problems. The sincere, loving support that a person receives from their mentors and peers in a 12-step group may be the first time they are cared for without strings attached. The concept of gaining help from God or a higher power in the 12-step model also helps some individuals break free of a codependent need to be controlled by others. 

According to the authors of these studies, you are much more likely to stay sober if the new identity you develop in recovery is more attractive to you than your previous identity. Moreover, the longer you live with your healthy new identity, the less pull your former addiction will have on you. You will be so satisfied with the healthy identity that you worked to establish and protect that you’ll find it easy to resist stepping back into your former identity associated with drug or alcohol use. 

If you need help finding treatment for an alcohol or drug addiction, the best time to start is now. To find a treatment center near you, call 888-401-1241 today. 



Diana Lomont has 20 years of experience in healthcare as a communications professional. With a BA in Journalism and MS in Writing, Diana enjoys researching and sharing evidence-based strategies to help others achieve wellness. Her background includes developing content on topics ranging from addiction recovery and mental health to state-of-the-art medical treatments. At the time of this writing, she is affiliated with Rehab Media Network.

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