Drug Addiction-to-Recovery Trajectories in British Sociocultural and Political Contexts: A Synthetic Discursive Exploration

  • Chris Jackson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


User of certain illegal drugs are arguably the most stigmatised group in British society. Moreover, people who are known to have a history of drug dependence are rarely given the opportunity to talk about their lives (Tutengs et al., 2015) much less be listened to by those who are willing and able to convey their narratives to professional and mainstream audiences. Their lack of voice has been produced by the idea that some groups lack the capacity to produce useful knowledge about their lives (Gubrium and Holstein, 2009). This qualitative, discursive study disrupts this normative inclination, exploring how eight former problematic-drug users construct their addiction-to-recovery trajectories in British sociocultural and political contexts. Underpinned by a constructionist epistemology, it starts from the premise that accounts of addiction and recovery cannot be understood in isolation from the contexts with which and in which they are produced.

The research has two connected empirical strands. The first strand - a Foucauldian-informed discourse analysis of England’s ‘recovery roadmap’ - draws attention to discourses permeating the text, critically discussing their implications for people with a history of drug addiction. In so doing, it renders visible a salient aspect of the discursive environment. This attention to the discursive milieu feeds into the second strand of the study consisting of qualitative interviews with former drug users, some of whom frame their accounts through the lens of Christian faith and others with no religious inclination. Here a synthetic discursive analytic framework is utilised with people viewed as both produced by and producers of discourse (Billig, 1991). The focus, broadly speaking, is how culturally available discursive resources both shape and are utilised by speakers to construct versions of reality as well as the rhetorical-discursive strategies respondents deploy and for what purpose. Another analytic consideration relates to the notion that interviewees are ‘always already positioned’ (Taylor and Littleton, 2012, p.25). The interest here is in how these positionings frame their talk about the past, present and future.

In sum, this thesis draws attention to the narratives of former drug users from a range of backgrounds with differing day-to-day circumstances and belief systems. Despite being situated at opposing ends of the religious-secular spectrum, some notable similarities as well as distinctions emerged between and among religious and non-religious respondents. Although discursive research on addiction and recovery exists, this study makes an original contribution to knowledge through the application of a synthetic discursive framework to addiction-to-recovery trajectories constructed by individuals aligned to both religious and non-religious recovery pathways. Moreover, triangulating data derived from the documentary analysis and interview strands provides insight into how political ‘new recovery’ discourses permeate former drug user accounts. Finally, by positioning as paramount the stories of people with a history of problematic-drug use this study aims to counteract widespread ignorance, produced, reproduced and reinforced by sensationalist and morally loaded media and political discourses on addiction and related issues.
Date of AwardFeb 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorRachel Maunder (Supervisor) & Jane Callaghan (Supervisor)


  • addiction
  • recovery
  • drug
  • drug policy
  • discourse analysis
  • discursive
  • recovery agenda

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