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Understanding the Culture of Addiction and the Culture of Recovery

Updated: Jan 12

The Culture of Addiction & Recovery

My name is Megan and I am an addict. My experience transforming from a culture of addiction into a culture of recovery was a long and painful one because I didn’t really understand what that transformation was about.

It wasn’t just the drugs that I was letting go of, it was a lifestyle, culture and the grief of letting go of something I didn’t fully understand was tremendous.

I wrote this blog with the intent of educating both families and addicts alike about what Addiction and Recovery really are about…

“People are not addicted to just the substance; people are addicted to escaping reality”

What brings people to “the culture of addiction”, the initiation into the culture - triggers such as pain, grief, exhaustion, boredom, fear, coercion, loss, hopelessness & insecurity.

The irony in this is exactly what the addict or alcoholic is trying to escape. It is exactly what will keep the addict or alcoholic in the maintained stage of addiction.

In the exact same way that the addict seeks escapism from the reality of life on life’s terms, ultimately, if they are lucky enough to survive the triggers that brought that person to substance abuse, once the pain has gotten too much the addict will choose to escape that reality of addiction.

My hope is that the addict would choose to seek help rather than end all possibility of change. (By overdosing or committing suicide).

If there is hope for a better life, it can begin the process of transformation from the culture of addiction into the culture of recovery. “The culture of recovery” has become a haven for those seeking to escape addiction and the lifestyle of addiction.

“Both the culture of addiction and culture of recovery are not defined by biology, history or heritage. They are in fact, defined as a sub-culture within a larger culture of society.”

hope for a better life can being the process of transformation

The culture of addiction and the culture of recovery refers to the needs, vulnerabilities and influences. The explanation that leads people to initiate, and sustain their relationship with their drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, etc. or support groups, Higher Power, sponsor, etc. This culture touches and transforms every dimension of one’s existence. What begins as a person-substance relationship, transforms into a complete lifestyle… a culture.

So what is the Culture of Addiction?

“Drugs and alcohol are not just a habit; it is a way of life. When you give up the junk, you give up a way of life”

  • The addict, regardless of the substance of choice, is a chameleon. It is no wonder that society’s understanding of an addict is conflicting (Incongruent).

  • The addict’s self-explaining of his/her story goes through kaleidoscopic changes depending on the audience. The addict, known by his/her family and loved ones is often described very differently from the way this person is described by others. For example, a mother would describe her poor John as helpless, dependent on drugs unable to cope and in desperate need of her financial support, whereas someone in John’s inner circle within the culture of addiction would describe him as a hustler, who takes initiative. The police would describe John as a callous criminal; the psychologist would describe John as insecure… with each report, the chameleon has shown a different colour.

  • It is as if the addict wandered into a magical world but, once in, became lost amidst the potions and poisons and pleasures and pain. To survive the predatory world of twists and turns and paths that ultimately lead nowhere, the addict must become a chameleon and develop many faces – a mask to fit each particular drama that comes up. A persona, developed moment by moment in response to threats and opportunities that present themselves. Any mask will present itself for the addict to sustain his/her drug relationship and lifestyle.

Culture of Addiction and Recovery Infographic

The Culture of Addiction - Defined:

Drug users seek out and build relationships with other people whose use mirrors their own. They create small groups within their culture, groups that consist of the same ethnic cultures, drugs of choice and geography.

(For example, an alcoholic befriends another alcoholic, or a gambling addict who drinks whilst gambling; a heroin addict befriends a heroin addict; someone who sniffs coke and has lived a high-class lifestyle befriends someone who has lived a similar lifestyle rather than the “junkie who spikes and landed up on the streets”).

These groups overlap and ultimately form the broader culture – “the informal social network in which group’s norms, patterns such as perceptions; thinking; feeling and behaviour promote drug and alcohol abuse.

  • It is a way of life, a means of organizing one’s daily existence, and a way of viewing society and events outside of its world.

  • Once an addict or alcoholic has emerged into this stage of addiction this is exactly what will maintain his/her addiction.

The reason why it is said that addiction is a family disease is that unfortunately through co-dependency and society’s views on who or what an addict is, unknowingly the families are not only affected by the addict's chaos, but by taking on the saviour role, or the understanding partner or parent, the enabler or even the avoider, the cycle keeps going.

Therefore, the family or loved ones of the addict become enmeshed within the culture of addiction. And how so, if they are not the ones with a substance abuse problem…

The problem is exactly that people who do not understand the disease of addiction will always see the substance as the problem, addicts and non-addicts alike. The problem is far deeper than the substance, it is the pain, the loss, the grief, and the lack of purpose.

Celebrate Recovery PRC Recovery


The A-cultural Addict

This is the person who has been initiated into and sustained addiction in isolation from others.

Take, for example, the physician addicted to Demerol, the person who has become medically addicted to prescription medication due to pain and trauma, or the valium addict or alcoholic who has kept their addiction hidden behind the walls of their own home.

They choose a substance that is medically and or socially acceptable; so when it gets to that point that their lives become unmanageable, the outside world may justify their addiction to medical problems; or psychiatric difficulties, because the A-Cultural addict does not fit the stereotypical image of an addict.

The Culturally Enmeshed Addict

These addicts are the addicts that have increasingly lost touch with or have never been part of a social world where abstinence or moderation is an option.

This addict is not only addicted to their drug; they are addicted to the “Streetlife” way of living too. In this world, it promises acceptance, status, a sense of safety (If I am the criminal then I won’t be affected by outside crime) and easy access to their most prized relationship of all – their drug of choice.

The Bicultural Addict

In contrast to the A-cultural addict who is isolated from the culture of addiction and the enmeshed addict who knows no other world, the bicultural addict lives simultaneously in the mainstream culture and the culture of addiction.

These addicts have two identities and operate in two different worlds;

  • Each of them serves different needs, but neither of them receives total loyalty.

  • The addict's life is a struggle for power, control and dominance over the drug.

  • As long as the addict fights to win this battle addiction continues.

  • Recovery, however, has to begin with surrender, the opportunity for transformation takes place when the addict finally gives up the fight. The illusions are finally stripped away.

  • Having sought pleasure, the addict found pain.

  • Having sought peace, the addict found anxiety, paranoia, and fear.

  • Seeking love, they began to only love the drug and abandoned those who loved them.

  • Seeking an escape, they found confrontation instead.

  • Seeking self-confidence, they found self-hatred.

It is said that recovery doesn’t ask for much… It only asks you to change everything about yourself so what does this mean?

Recovery only asks ou to change everything about yourself

The metamorphosis from the culture of addiction into the culture of recovery is a mixture of pain and hope, there is often a clash and struggle of wills. Through this clash, however, the addict’s experience of surrender and acceptance gives birth to the potential for recovery.

In this clash, the addict’s compulsive patterns of self-destruction are unfrozen and opened for change.

This is where the pain of the transformation occurs, a loss of identity because each element of the culture of addiction embedded in the addict's lifestyle must be abandoned to step into the culture of recovery.

The Culture of Recovery - Defined:

As a sustainable process of empowerment by surrender and acceptance, hope, trust, forgiveness and self-acceptance. The reconstruction of personal values, beliefs and relationships.

  • The culture of recovery offers drug-free havens and freedom from the addict's invisible prison.

  • The return of self-care, and in that the ability to care for others.

  • Exploring new images, music, ideals, hobbies, & outlooks. Once an addict transforms into the culture of recovery, they no longer stigmatize themselves, they no longer place themselves in that prison, that box, instead, they start exploring, and begin the journey into self-discovery.

  • Personal ownership & responsibility of decisions made and the acceptance of the outcome.

  • An honest daily inventory and admission of mistakes.

  • Growth.

Self-love and self-poisoning cannot consciously co-exist. Therefore, Recovery and Addiction cannot simultaneously co-exist.

The Culture of Recovery - a sustainable process of empowerment



This insightful blog delves into the intricate nuances of addiction and recovery. Megan shares her journey, emphasizing that addiction isn't just about substances but a profound lifestyle shift. Triggers, societal influences, and the family's inadvertent role in the culture of addiction are explored. The blog introduces three addiction styles - A-cultural, Culturally Enmeshed, and Bicultural, shedding light on their unique struggles. The transformative journey to recovery involves surrender, acceptance, and a profound change in self. The culture of recovery is defined as a sustainable process of empowerment, offering hope, trust, and self-acceptance. The blog concludes with a powerful message that recovery and addiction cannot coexist, advocating for personal responsibility, growth, and self-love. References to William White's work enrich the content.

Addiction as an Escape from Reality

People are not just addicted to substances; they are addicted to escaping the harsh realities of life. Triggers such as pain, grief, boredom, or fear often lead individuals into the culture of addiction as a means of coping.

Culture of Addiction vs. Culture of Recovery

Chameleon-Like Nature of the Addict

Defining the Culture of Addiction:

Basic Styles of Affiliation with Addiction

Metamorphosis into the Culture of Recovery

In summary, the blog highlights the profound transformation from the culture of addiction, driven by escapism, to the culture of recovery, marked by surrender, acceptance, and a holistic reconstruction of values and relationships. It emphasizes the chameleon-like nature of addicts, the defining characteristics of the culture of addiction, and the essential elements of metamorphosis into a culture of recovery. The journey involves a clash, struggle, and painful loss, but it ultimately leads to empowerment, self-discovery, and the ability to coexist without the grip of addiction.



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