Addiction and the importance of belonging

Writing in The Psychologist, Genevieve Dingle takes a social identity route in and out of substance use:

Substance-using groups and identities may not be healthy and positive forces in our life, but people value them. Mapping such networks, and ensuring they are replaced, may be the key to behaviour change in addiction.

“In 1990 I arrived in London for a ‘gap year’, staying with some friends-of-friends for a few weeks while looking for a job and somewhere more permanent to live. I was young, far from my family and friends, and in those days before the advent of social media it was a lonely time. Everyone in the house smoked heavily. It was a shared ritual and a way of belonging. Soon – despite my knowledge of the health hazards – I became a smoker too. At clubs and parties that year, I would gather with ‘the smokers’, who always seemed to me to be the group having the most fun. I moved out of the shared house quickly but continued smoking – it took the place of a friend and something to do during a time of transition where I felt I didn’t belong.

After returning home and back to friends, work and study, my smoking became something of a burden. There were no smokers in my family and I tried to hide it from my parents and colleagues who would no doubt have disapproved. Australian anti-smoking policies made smokers a stigmatised population. We paid increasingly heavy taxes on cigarettes and were forced to stand in smoking zones further and further away from our places of work and leisure. I noticed at parties that ‘the smokers’ group dwindled and instead of being the ones having the most fun, the smokers appeared to be the outcasts. Ironically, the smoking that had started as a way of belonging had become a barrier to connecting with family and friends. Eventually the day came when I realised that I was no longer one of ‘the smokers’ and I gave it up …”

Read more here.

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