The Fear of Losing Your Identity Within the Addiction

Woman in the shadows

Facing the choice to embark on recovery is often not a simple one to make. There are a multitude of factors that can hold one back from leaning into the process and healing themselves from the addiction. One of the factors holding people back from progress is the significant fear of losing one’s identity that has formed around the use of substances and sometimes addiction. Substance use is heavily rooted within the social arena and is itself a lifestyle.

The Challenge with Identity and Addiction

The idea of letting this lifestyle go can cause overwhelming anxiety to arise and make one turn away from recovery. One may experience catastrophizing thoughts around losing all that is good in their life, losing all friends, being boring, and feeling lost without the use of the substance.

This fear is common, but by looking at the sober community, one can see that those thoughts are not true. Yes, when one embarks on recovery and chooses themselves, that world created around the substance often falls away. The absence of that world is not a devastating loss but rather an amazing opportunity for a full and meaningful life that is not diluted.

Social Group Impact on Substance Use

Teenager struggling with finding his identity outside of addictionAll humans have a strong desire to belong and connect, and these needs are often met within our social worlds. Tajef et al. (1979) suggests that it is within our social groups where one forms their social identity, and it is within this identity where one has the felt sense of belonging.

Using this perspective of social identity, we can see how one can form an identity around the use of substances and addiction. When one uses a substance, they are no longer their true self but an altered version.

This altered version of one’s self is often affirmed as acceptable within their social group, whose members are also using substances. Heshmat (2019) proposes that “Drug user communities can offer individuals a sense of self-identity and belonging when they are otherwise socially isolated and ostracized.

A sense of belonging in social networks provides self-esteem and self-worth”. This real feeling of belonging is an extremely strong barrier for those facing the choice to recover. The extreme lengths one will take to feel included and accepted have been commonly portrayed throughout our society and often lure members into different communities.

Thankfully one’s identity is not set in stone. Where we have been does not tell where we are going. The past cannot be changed, we only have this exact moment.

Moving Past Addiction

The moment you read this is when you can make the choice to be a different you, a more authentic you. One of the first steps to creating an identity outside of substance use is to connect with others who are on a similar path.

Find a recovery-focused meeting to attend and show up as your true self, insecurities and all. Next, explore yourself outside of the substance use. One could begin to try new things such as physical activities (sports, hiking, surfing, etc.), tapping into creativity, reading books outside of your normal preference, and attending different community events not centered around substance use. Find your identity in yourself rather than your addiction.

A note to the readers: By no means is this process easy, but it is rewarding and can feel as though you have been given a second chance to be the person you always needed and wanted to be.

“The wound is the place where the light enters you” – Rumi


About the Author:

Jessica Boghosian ImageJessica Boghosian, ACSW, is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker and a Clinical Therapist at Bright Road Recovery in Claremont, CA. She lives for the present moment and shares her warmth and joy at every chance she gets. Jessica currently works with individuals with eating disorders at various levels of care, including Residential, Partial Hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient, and Outpatient. She also works with individuals with other mental health diagnoses at an outpatient level of care.

She holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of New England and is currently working towards licensure. Jessica’s love for her work with patients at Bright Road Recovery is clear to see. She aims to meet each patient where they are at and walks beside them in their journey to recovery. Jessica honors each patient’s individual journey and dedicates herself to increasing their love of life and themselves.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 16, 2020
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 16, 2020
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.