Drug-Related Identity Change: Theoretical Development and Empirical Assessment

By Anderson, Tammy L.; Mott, Joshua A. | Journal of Drug Issues, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Drug-Related Identity Change: Theoretical Development and Empirical Assessment


Anderson, Tammy L., Mott, Joshua A., Journal of Drug Issues


Our study targets an understanding of the drug-related identity change process, which may offer important sociological insights into the etiology of drug abuse. Our work is grounded in symbolic interactionism, cultural studies, and an extant drug-identity model (Anderson 1994). We use a quantitative survey instrument and retrospective accounts to test our model with a representative sample of white and black females and males seeking treatment for drug abuse in mid-Michigan.

Our data show that for many drug-related identity change began in childhood and early adolescence with marginalizing experiences that helped create ego identity discomfort and lost control in defining an identity before drug use. Identification with a drug subculture offered alternative identities to resolve such predicaments. Additionally, we found that identification with a drug subculture significantly reduced ego identity discomfort during drug use, which, thereby, substantiates the claim that subcultures can act as solutions to individual problems and predicaments.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to increase our understanding of the explanatory factors of drug-related identity changes of drug abusers. We use an extant model (Anderson 1994; n.d.) that is based on ideas from symbolic interactionism and the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies to achieve this objective. Our basic premise is that identity concerns motivate individuals toward drug subcultural groups and that such groups help them resolve their identity problems (Willis 1977; Hebdige 1979; Hall and Jefferson 1976). We suspect, as is the case with other types of deviance, that drug abuse escalates with increased identification with such subcultural groups (Anderson 1995), although we do not directly test an etiological model of drug abuse here.

There are two main reasons that we believe understanding drug-related identity change will contribute to the drug-abuse literature. First, identities inform us how culturally diverse individuals construct and re-construct their realities and pattern their behavior within the larger societal background given structural or historical change (Katovich 1986). Identity research can, therefore, provide important insights into linking multi-level phenomena that affect drug abuse.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, identities motivate behavior (Hewitt 1991). Therefore, studying changes in identity will ultimately help us to understand changes in behavior. Most theories focus solely on predicting behavioral outcomes, such as the frequency or amount of drug use. Our model studies, instead, the acquisition of drug-related identities during involvement with drugs. Behaviors like actual drug abuse are conceptualized as part of the identity change process. Interactionists exploring deviant behaviors and careers have noted the importance of identity change in the initiation, persistence, and termination of drug addiction (Ray 1968; Biernacki 1986; Becker 1963; Pearson 1987; Waldorf et al. 1983; Hawkins and Wacker 1983; Jorquez 1983; Waldorf et al. 1991), alcoholism (Denzin 1987; Brown 1991), crime (Shover 1983; Miesenhelder 1982; Schmid and Jones 1991), mental illness (Goffman 1961), and obesity (Dehger and Hughes 199). This work consistently underscores the notion that "undesirable" behaviors often escalate with increased "deviant" identification and decrease with identity change toward nondeviance. Our approach acknowledges this relationship between identity and deviant behavior. It allows for a deeper understanding of the drives toward drug abuse and may offer new approaches to prevention strategies. Statements about drug-related identity change should, therefore, help to inform the etiology of drug abuse.

Toward a Theory of Drug-related Identity Change

Background Themes and Assumptions

Several symbolic interactionist principles of identity help frame our investigation. The conceptual model we develop and test uses several themes (i. …

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