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‘Some days I am a lunatic that thinks I can moderate’: Amalgamating recovery and neo-liberal discourses within accounts of non-drinking among women active in the ‘positive sobriety’ community on Instagram in the UK

Atkinson, AM, Meadows, BR, Nicholls, E and Sumnall, H (2022) ‘Some days I am a lunatic that thinks I can moderate’: Amalgamating recovery and neo-liberal discourses within accounts of non-drinking among women active in the ‘positive sobriety’ community on Instagram in the UK. International Journal of Drug Policy, 112. ISSN 0955-3959

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Open Access URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103937 (Published version)


Background: In recent years, reductions in drinking in the UK and the rise of online ‘positive’ sobriety communities have been observed, yet peer led support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and neo-liberal discourses of control and responsibility dominate public understandings of (problematic) alcohol use. This paper presents research exploring how women active in the ‘positive sobriety’ community on Instagram position and construct their non-drinking identities and relationships with alcohol within these overlapping discourses. Methods: Semi-structured interviews (n=15) and online content produced by women active in the positive sobriety community on Instagram were analysed using thematic analysis. Findings: Women challenged, reproduced and amalgamated AA discourses of addiction, and the broader discourses of neo-liberalism, in ways that positioned (alcohol) consumption, agency, control and individual responsibility as defining features of feminine identity making. Drawing on these discourses, binary understandings of problematic drinking, the identity of the ‘alcoholic’, and the need to reach ‘rock bottom’ in the recovery process were rejected and challenged, but at times reproduced. Whilst a broader framing of problematic drinking that situated drinking problems on a spectrum was constructed, abstinence was engaged with and promoted as the most effective way of gaining control and responsibility over drinking in gendered ways, and in establishing an authentic sense of self. Conclusion: This paper contributes to emerging research on online ‘positive’ sobriety communities, their gendered nature, and the intertwined presence of traditional recovery and neo-liberal discourses in women's accounts. Online sober communities offered alternative spaces of support and allowed for sobriety and sober femininities to be framed more positively than within traditional AA conceptualisations. However, those involved may experience tensions around (a) the need to ‘tell’ their personal stories of complete abstinence whilst still appealing to those who seek to ‘moderate’ and (b) the pressure to create and craft an ‘authentic’ sober self on an online platform that demands a carefully curated self-image and personal ‘brand’. Further research should aim to gain more understanding of the role social media plays in “doing” sobriety and non-drinking, how this is done by people of different genders, the intersectional experiences of those participating, and how these communities can be made more equally available and accessible to those who do not consider full abstinence as necessary, whilst still appealing to those that do.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Abstinence; Alcohol; Alcoholics Anonymous; Gender; Sobriety; 11 Medical and Health Sciences; 16 Studies in Human Society; 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences; Substance Abuse
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Divisions: Public Health Institute
Publisher: Elsevier BV
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2023 12:22
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2023 15:31
DOI or ID number: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103937
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/18540
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