Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Based on six months of ethnographic fieldwork with persons who have performed “natural recovery”, this paper critically analyzes academic, expert, and cultural constructions of “addiction” and “recovery” to interrogate both the rhetoric and practice of cessation. “Natural recovery” from alcohol or drugs is the inhibition or moderation of problematic substance use without employing the use of formal addiction services. This unstructured and “institution-less” form of recovery fundamentally calls into question cultural assumptions of “addiction” and “recovery”. It asks how people change without a formal guiding institution and interrogates conventional understandings of “addiction” as a state that cannot be changed without these institutions. More specifically, this research contrasts how rhetoric is created, resisted, and perpetuated under circumstances outside of the guiding rhetoric of formal rehabilitation programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and in/outpatient therapies. This paper also seeks to highlight the role rhetoric plays in change and the lived experience of those who pursue “natural recovery” and complicates what counts as “natural” in unstructured “recovery”. Language use is critical to how participants seek and navigate cessation outside of a formal rehabilitation program. I argue that by studying those on the fringes of the percepts of “addiction” and “recovery” we gain insight into how language shapes personal change, how cultural concepts leech into the rhetoric, and how people cognitively conceptualize what it means to be a problematic substance user.