The Power of Personal Stories in Overcoming Addiction

addiction recovery stories

Plus: New numbers on adolescent vaping and on the ravages of alcohol during the pandemic

By William Wagner

One of our favorite sections on is “Stories of Hope.” And judging from all the page views generated by these articles—personal stories from readers about how they have been affected by and have overcome addiction—it also is one of your favorite sections. A new study out of the University of Nottingham in the U.K. sheds light on the implications of all this: Personal narratives can lead to better addiction treatment.

We also look at new statistics on adolescent vaping and the increase in alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic.

From Plos One:
How Narratives Can Shape Addiction Care

Don’t underestimate the power of anecdotal evidence. That is the message from researchers from the University of Nottingham, who analyzed personal narratives from sources such as YouTube and autobiographies and concluded that they can be an invaluable tool in shaping treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The researchers examined 32 studies from the past three decades about recovery narratives from people with AUD. Their study was divided into eight “dimensions”:

  1. Genre
  2. Identity
  3. Recovery setting
  4. Drinking trajectory
  5. Drinking behaviors and traits
  6. Stages
  7. Spirituality and religion
  8. Recovery experience

Among the commonalities in the narratives: “We found that the path to recovery involved some higher order (religious/spiritual) system of thought and practice toward what is more broadly recognised in addiction research as the recoveree ‘developing a sense of future,’” the researchers write. “Driven emotionally with hope and positive feelings, individuals found forming or mending relationships with significant others helped their recovery. Through meaningful activity, they acquired goals, acquired safety and confidence, often in a program that offered a social support network.”

The researchers believe their work can have an impact on refining treatment practices. “The role of narratives in alcohol recovery is only partially understood,” they write. “In this context, our review provides characteristics of alcohol recovery narratives, with implications for both research and healthcare practice. We recommend research focus on collecting narratives from people in lower income countries, in those who have recovered outside of mainstream services or those who have used services other than AA, with a focus on more ethnic diversity in studies.”

From Addiction:
New Numbers on Adolescent Vaping

Gary Chan

A new study on global vaping brings good news: The numbers on habitual vaping are relatively low among adolescents (ages 13 to 15). After analyzing World Health Organization (WHO) data from 44 countries between 2015 and 2018, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia found that 8.6% of the 151,960 adolescents surveyed had vaped within the past 30 days but only 1.7% engaged in “frequent vaping.”

“There are two likely explanations for the low levels of frequent vaping among young people,” says Gary Chan, PsyD, lead author of the study. “First, e-cigarettes are relatively new and are often sold in colorful packages with highly palatable flavors that could appeal to adolescents, thus leading to experimentation but not continued use. Second, while some e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, adolescents can also vape non-nicotine or low-nicotine e-cigarettes and avoid becoming addicted. Future WHO surveys should ask participants to disclose whether nicotine is in the vaping liquids they use.”

Given the surge in substance misuse and mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report published on the JAMA Network isn’t surprising. According to researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, alcohol-related deaths increased significantly during the pandemic among all age groups and genders.

“During the first few months of the pandemic, my colleagues and I saw increased numbers of patients being treated for acute alcohol use-related conditions in the intensive care unit and throughout the medical center.”

—Yee Hui Yeo, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Anecdotal evidence and the researchers’ own observations early in the pandemic spurred them to undertake the study. “During the first few months of the pandemic, my colleagues and I saw increased numbers of patients being treated for acute alcohol use-related conditions in the intensive care unit and throughout the medical center,” says Yee Hui Yeo, MD, MSc, lead author of the study. “We also became aware of reports from single centers of elevated alcohol use-related complications. That prompted us to think, maybe this is a significant public health crisis.”

After accessing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mortality data from 2012 to 2019, the researchers created a model to compare alcohol-related deaths in 2020 and 2021 with those from the previous years. Overall alcohol-related fatalities were 25% higher than projected rates in 2020 and 22% higher in 2021. The largest increases were seen among people between 25 and 44 years old.

The study adds to the mountain of data that already has been collected on the effects of the pandemic. “In publishing this article, we want everyone, especially policymakers and physicians on the front lines, to know that during the pandemic, there is really a significant surge in alcohol use disorder-related deaths,” Yeo says. “We also want to recognize that patients who die from alcohol use disorder-related causes tend to have social determinants of health, like lower socioeconomic status, that can make it harder for them to access healthcare and help. Finally, we want to make sure that patients who do seek treatment for alcohol or substance use have access to follow-up care to prevent secondary complications.”

Top photo: Kelly Sikkema