Finding an Identity Outside of Addiction


Although there is no definitive treatment method for addictive disorders — no clear-cut path from point A of diagnosis to point B of being recovered — there are guidelines based on the commonalities of previous addiction recovery treatments (especially considering the majority of diagnosed cases involve an individualistic, co-occurring mental health disorder). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has detailed a rough outline as four steps or recovery stages, each with a multitude of substeps. They include:


Of course, individuals suffering from an addictive disorder need first to get sober, and it is after attaining sobriety in the critical sobriety maintenance stages of 2-4 where addiction recovery patients start to experience the feeling of being stripped of their former identity. It is important to note, especially for those in early recovery, that this feeling is both common and a natural part of the recovery process. 

Finding your identity, an identity that was once consumed by addiction, is a critical piece to the recovery puzzle. The fortunate aspect of substance misuse treatment is that for addiction recovery patients, initial sobriety alone begins this process of deconstructing the false identity and unearthing the true self that was hidden beneath the stigmas surrounding your disease.

Identity Confusion 

Addiction recovery patients typically experience some form of identity confusion that is commonly mistaken as a loss of identity. Identity is itself an illusion based on perspective, but for these purposes, identity will be discussed as a real and tangible presence. This is due to the fact that no matter how illusory our identity may be, identity being only a perception does in no way affect its very real influence on our daily lives. How individuals with addiction disorders and co-occurring mental health issues perceive themselves drastically alters the success rate of recovery. 

This identity confusion addiction recovery patients undergo stems from the loss of a “known” self or way of life; even if that way of life was unsustainable and mostly damaging both mentally and physically, it was still known and familiar. Individuals with addictive disorders often feel like they found a methodology to order their lives, albeit a flawed one. Regardless, it got them through the day by helping them cope with underlying mental health issues. Once that security blanket is gone, they naturally feel a loss of self because their addiction previously consumed the majority of their lives.

The inherent confusion those in addiction recovery experience as a loss of identity is due in large part to them mistakenly associating their identity with only what they do in their lives. Substance misuse had previously dominated a large portion of their lives, so naturally, they associated their identity with their addictive disorder. Those in addiction recovery are not completely off on this assumption, though, as actions are representative of who an individual is as a person. Where the mistake lies in addictive disorder cases is in perceiving a disease like addiction as a self-motivated action and not what it truly is: a largely uncontrollable reaction.

Avoiding Comforts of the “Known” Self

Americans are arguably obsessed with their own identities; in particular, our independence as well as individualizing that perception of our identity. Identity, or how we self-identify, is a multifaceted psychological state of mind that is solely based on perspective. When it comes to most stages or steps in addiction recovery, identity has its fair share of pros and an equal amount of cons. At its basest concept, it is arguably what makes us human. At its worst, misconceptions on self can drive motivation for further substance misuse for those with addictive disorders. The problem for addiction recovery patients lies in deconstructing the myths surrounding their personal identities while allowing repeated healthier actions to reconstruct a new perceived identity.

Much of the heavy lifting of deconstructing the myth of addict identity is already done by attaining sobriety. What those in addiction recovery need to be concerned with is separating themselves from the false idea of associating themselves with addiction disorder while they also avoid reverting back to the old comfortable self. Behavioral therapy is an excellent first step; simple dialectical changes can help those in addiction recovery avoid stinking thinking and go a long way in creating a fresh new perspective on self-identity. Another practice recommended by neuroscientist Sam Harris is to perceive individual identity as a mirror — just as a mirror reflects an image and yet never is that image, your identity may reflect your actions while never actually being made up of those actions. As time progresses, just as repeated healthier practices become a habit, they should also supplant any images of a previous identity as an addict.


If an addictive disorder or co-occurring mental health issue consumed your identity, Choice House has the expertise and well-trained staff to help. We specialize in dual diagnosis treatment utilizing a variety of therapeutic modalities to help men attain sobriety by crafting new, healthier identities based on trust and empathy. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, Choice House offers addiction recovery patients three different treatment options, including a 90-day inpatient program, intensive outpatient services, and a transitional sober living campus. Our facilities are situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and we take full advantage of the natural surroundings. We offer addiction recovery patients a unique outdoor therapy modality in which men can bond through a variety of physical activities while reconnecting with nature and their true selves. The sober living campus facilities are also just a short drive from the bustling city of Louisville, providing an excellent transitional process from inpatient to outpatient services. This close proximity allows residents of the campus to seek out employment and maintain social lives while maintaining the guidance and structure that is so important in early recovery. If you are interested in finding out more about our facilities and treatment programs, please give us a call today at  (720) 577-4422.

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