How an Alcoholic Constructs 'Self' in Narrative

Topics: Drug addiction, Alcoholism, Addiction Pages: 8 (2963 words) Published: February 27, 2013
How do alcoholics present their current and past self in their narratives?


The aim of this study is to look at how an alcoholic presents self in a story regarding their experience of alcoholism. In order to be able do this, the study will look at theories of narratives and identities. Personal identity is built up of the narratives told of personal experiences. Narratives play an essential role for people to be able to form their identity and recount and reflect on their lives. In the narratives of alcoholics they often present an addict and non-addict identity. Giddens suggests that “narrative is the principle element in identity formation” (Giddens 1991 in Mcintosh & Mckeganey:1503). Many people believe that alcohol can be just as difficult to give up as drugs. But it is important to remember that not everyone who starts drinking becomes an alcoholic. But for those who do become alcoholics it is not impossible to recover and many alcoholics do recover. An alcoholic often have what past researchers have called “synthetic confidence” (McIntosh & Mckeganey:2000) as the alcohol enables to play by different rules to what would be acceptable. Some of the research on the presentation of identity of drug addicts will be this paper’s analysis of the narratives of alcoholics. Aside from the research on the obvious health issues that can be linked to alcohol and drug abuse. There has also been research done on the recovery of drug addicts showing them taking on different identities when talking about their experiences of addiction (McIntosh & Mckeganey:2000). This paper aims to discover whether alcoholics share this habit of creating new identities for themselves within their narratives.

Background Reading

Previous work on narratives has shown that they are the “primary way through which humans organise their experiences into temporally meaningful episodes” (Richardon 1990 in Ozyildirim:1210). One of the theorists who did a lot of work in the field of narratives was Labov. Labov identified that a narrative must be made up of at least two temporally ordered clauses and outlined 5 components which make up a basic narrative structure nut also have a function in the narrative (Labov:1972 in Benwell &Stockoe:133-134). These are;

• Abstract - These are a few clauses at the beginning of the narrative which summarises the whole story to the listener. • Orientation - The aim of the orientation is to help the listener to understand the context of the story. • Complicating Action - This is the main point of the story and is usually some kind of obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome. • Resolution - This is a conclusion of the events that took place within the complicating action of the story. • Evaluation - The function of the evaluation is to make sure that the point of the story is clear. • Coda - This summarises the story and is a signal that the story has ended. It brings the story back to the present.

The components can all take on specific linguistic forms within a narrative. For example the orientation can be characterised by past tense verbs. The evaluation can often contain many intensifiers and modal verbs. These six components can just as easily be applied to a full length novel as well as an oral narrative. In the narrative looked at in this study, alcohol is the complicating action; the entire story revolves around the relationship between the narrator and alcohol. There are various theories of narrative which are similar to that of Labov, one of these was Hazel (2008), who said that narratives are a representation of reality from a particular perspective. According to Hazel, a narrative must have a teller, a trajectory and like Labov basic structural features. However, Hazel’s structural features include narrators, characters, settings, a plot and events that evolve over time.

There has also been work done on how people place themselves within their narratives. looked at...

References: • Benwell, B & Stockoe, E. (2006) Narrative Identities in Benwell, B & Stockoe, E.(ed.) Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University press, pp.129-162.
• Hazel, P. (2008) Toward a narrative pedagogy for interactive learning Environments. Interactive Learning Environments Special Issue: Narrative and Interactive Learning Environments, 6(3), pp. 199-213.
• McIntosh, J & McKeganey, N.(2000) Addicts’ narratives of recovery from drug use: Constructing a non addict identity. Journal of Social Science & Medicine, 50(1), pp.1501-1510.
• Ozyildirim, I. (2009) Narrative analysis: An analysis of oral and written strategies in personal experience narratives. Journal of Pragmatics, (41), pp. 1209-1222
• Schiffrin, D, De Fina et Al (2010) Telling Stories. Washington D.C:Georgetown University Press.
• Shinebourne, P & Smith J. (2009) Alcohol and the self: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of the experience of addiction and its impact on the sense of self and identity. Journal of Addiction Research and Theory, 17(2), pp. 152-167.
• Thornborrow, J & Coates J. (2006) The Sociolinguistics of Narrative. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company
• TJVlogs (2012) An Alcoholic’s Journey to Sobriety. Available at: (Accessed: 27th December 2012)
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