The "alcoholic other": Harmful drinkers resist problem recognition to manage identity threat

Addict Behav. 2022 Jan:124:107093. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2021.107093. Epub 2021 Aug 23.


Objective: Harmful drinkers represent an important Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) group in public health terms, accounting for significant health and social costs. However, harmful drinkers are characterized by low problem recognition; they tend to construct their drinking identity as positive and problem-free, actively setting themselves apart from the stigmatised 'alcoholic other'. As such, harmful drinkers rarely engage in treatment and represent an important opportunity for lower threshold interventions and self-change. The present study sought to explore AUD problem framing and stigma effects on problem recognition.

Methods: Harmful drinkers without perceived addiction experience recruited online (n = 244, 54% male, 46% female, 96% British) were randomised to one of six conditions comprising beliefs about alcohol problems (control, continuum, binary disease model) and stigma (stigma, non-stigma), and completed measures relating to problem recognition.

Results: As predicted, results found that harmful drinkers exposed to binary disease model beliefs and stigmatising language had significantly lower problem recognition than those in other conditions. However, no support was found for the prediction that continuum beliefs would be associated with higher problem recognition. Results suggest that the interaction of binary disease model beliefs and stigma prompted alcoholic label avoidance.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that problem framing has important consequences for harmful drinkers. Implications for behaviour change amongst harmful drinkers through mechanisms of problem framing and identity are discussed.

Keywords: Addiction; Alcohol; Framing; Problem recognition; Stigma.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders*
  • Alcoholism*
  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Stigma