‘Experiences of addiction’ project: SSAC video presentation

What exactly is ‘addiction’ and how do people experience it? How do these experiences shape their understandings of themselves, and how others see them? These are some of the questions informing the development of a new online resource — livesofsubstance.org –presenting personal experiences of AOD addiction or dependence in Australia. In a recent presentation delivered as part of a seminar series run by Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Melbourne, project research associate Dr Kiran Pienaar introduced this planned resource, outlined the research underpinning it, and described its distinctive features and anticipated applications.

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Funded by an ARC Discovery grant, the resource will be the first of its kind in Australia. It will present rigorously collected and systematically analysed accounts of people’s lived experiences of AOD addiction or dependence.

According to Dr Pienaar, ‘The material on Lives of Substance will be carefully curated and searchable via general themes, as well as via individual profiles. The aim is to situate individual experiences within broad social issues and to illuminate the many factors that lead people to draw on the notion of addiction or dependence in articulating their experiences. It will present a diverse range of experiences across gender, AOD type, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation and treatment experience. Presenting a wide variety of experiences means that anyone visiting the site because of their own alcohol or other drug use should find experiences that resonate in some way with their own’.

As a publically accessible resource, livesofsubstance.org is intended to reach a wide audience, including members of the public, health professionals and policymakers. In targeting this audience and making the website discoverable, it is necessary to consider the terms commonly used by those concerned about their own or other’s AOD use. These include ‘drug dependence’, ‘habit’ and ‘drug problem’, but the most widespread label is ‘addiction’. Recognising its wide currency, this project uses the broad label ‘addiction’ as an overarching term to allow critical investigation. Our aim in developing Lives of Substance is not to adopt a particular interpretation of addiction but rather to explore how people understand the concept itself (and related ones such as ‘dependence’ and ‘drug habit’).

Lives of Substance has a range of useful applications including as a source of information for people who consider themselves to be experiencing issues with drugs, and their families and friends. With its grounding in rigorous qualitative research, the resource will also provide a knowledge base for clinical education, and for improving AOD public health and social policy and practice. A key aim of livesofsubstance.org is to enrich public understandings of people’s diverse experiences with regular AOD use. The personal accounts collected so far show that it’s possible to cope with the kind of AOD use that could attract the label of addiction or dependence. By presenting accounts that weaken the associations usually made with the word addiction and drawing attention to the many different experiences people have while subject to this discourse, the resource may prompt site visitors to reconsider their assumptions about addiction, perhaps even asking themselves how useful the concept is in capturing people’s varied experiences with regular AOD use.