Identity plays a complicated role in addiction. Studies have found that younger people with no clear sense of identity, especially social identity, are at greater risk of associating with people who use drugs and alcohol. These groups are an easy way to find social acceptance and form a social identity. Being part of such a group often brings a certain notoriety, but that’s often better than anonymity. Unfortunately, having an identity tied to drug and alcohol use makes it more likely you will develop a substance use disorder.
If you already have a substance use disorder and have had it for a while, it becomes part of your identity. It may consume your identity. One characteristic of addiction is that your thinking becomes very rigid. You fixate on feeding your addiction and it’s easy to begin to think of your identity as only someone who is addicted to a particular thing. You begin to exclude all other facets of your personality from your increasingly narrow awareness.
Making addiction the focus of your identity can be an impediment to getting help. Most people cling tightly to the sense of who they are. We defend our opinions fiercely, especially opinions that relate to our core values. We tell ourselves stories about our past and our personality. We build up a particular sense of self over our lifetimes. Anything that disturbs this edifice can be disorienting and threatening. If your addiction is a major part of your identity, you might have trouble letting it go. It has defined you for years, guiding your actions and giving you a sense of purpose. It’s only normal to fear giving that up.
However, loosening your grip on addiction as part of your identity is necessary before you can move forward. If you can only see yourself as someone with a substance use disorder, your temptation will always be to slide back into that groove.
Perhaps the best way to let go of addiction as a defining feature of your identity is to broaden your scope. Identities are always complex and multifaceted. We play different roles in different situations. We like some things and dislike others. Start by recognizing all the other aspects that make up your identity, or identities. You may also be a friend, a parent, an artist, an athlete, a chef, a carpenter, a teacher, or any number of things that reflect your different activities and values.
After you’ve broadened your scope, start nurturing these other aspects of your identity. If you’re a parent, spend more time with your kids. If you’re an artist, spend more time paining. The addictive side may always be there, but you can choose to cultivate the more constructive aspects of your identity. Eventually, you’ll start seeing yourself in terms of these more positive aspects. Most people’s identities change over their lifetime anyway, so it’s a good idea to nudge that change in the right direction.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.