Experiences of addiction and recovery: The case for subjective accounts

Michael Larkin, Mark D. Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we argue that psychology must address issues of subjective experience in accounting for addictive behaviour problems, and further, that self and identity are integral to such experiences. While the importance of self and identity issues is often recognised implicitly at the level of therapeutic practice, the extent of their involvement, and the nature of their relationship with other factors, is not yet fully understood at the level of theory and research. We offer a case for addressing this problem through the collection and analysis of subjective accounts. This is because we think that any understanding of the relationship between addiction, self and identity should be informed by participants' own accounts of their experiences of addictive behaviour problems. This argument is supported here by an account of observational data collected at a residential addictions treatment centre. The data were analysed using the IPA (Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis) approach. This represents a novel application of the IPA method to observational data, and we therefore include some reflective evaluation of its suitability for this purpose. Our interpretation of the data suggests that self and identity issues may well be crucial to our understanding of the experiences of addiction and recovery. This may have important implications for the treatment of addictive behaviour problems, not least because self and identity issues are relatively 'accessible and addressable' in a therapeutic context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-311
Number of pages31
JournalAddiction Research and Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2002


  • 12-Step
  • Experience
  • Identity
  • IPA
  • Observation
  • Phenomenology
  • Relationships
  • Self
  • Therapy
  • Treatment


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