Personal Identity and Recovery

If you heard someone say that they were a “recovering alcoholic” or “recovering addict,” how would you react? Can you imagine yourself saying such words, and if so how would you expect others to react?

There is no doubt that the concept of alcoholism has long been associated with a social stigma. Being an “alcoholic” was long (and for some still is) thought to be a moral failing—a character flaw or lack of willpower. That is one reason why AA, in its Fact Sheet, emphasizes its commitment to anonymity. The intent, of course, is to shield members of AA from the stigma and thereby protect their reputations and even their careers.

Dr DavidDr. Jospeh Nowinski, is an internationally recognized clinical psychologist and author. He has served as the Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. He also held position at the Associate Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut. He is currently conducting his independent practice in Tolland, Connecticut.
Editor: Arman Ahmed

Watch a video by Dr Sadaqat in which he talks about alcoholism
Dr. Sadaqat Ali talks about Alcoholism

But the commitment to anonymity also serves a second purpose. It acts as a barrier to the pursuit of personal recognition, power, or prestige. It also makes AA a bottom-up as opposed to a top-down organization. On the one hand the fact that no one individual speaks for AA renders it unable to respond to criticism from skeptics; on the other hand it has made it an incredibly adaptable fellowship.

Yet the question remains: Is the stigma once associated with alcoholism still as potent today as it once was? And what are the actual implications of identifying yourself as a “recovering alcoholic”?


Research on Identity

Social psychologists have long studied the way individuals choose to define themselves, and how that identity in turn affects them. In doing so they have followed in the footsteps of Erik Erikson, whose seminal work, Identity: Youth and Crisis, first set forth the notion that the identity we embrace as we pass through adolescence represents a kind of psychological template or road map that strongly influences the direction our lives will take.

Social psychological research has worked more on how a person’s decision to identify with a particular group can relate to their physical and/or mental health. In one study, for example, researchers found that survivors of stroke who chose to identify themselves that way and attend ongoing support groups reported enhanced feelings of well-being as compared to stroke survivors who opted not to become active in such groups.