Personal Stories Are Carefully Edited During Addiction Treatment


People’s perceptions of their own life stories are carefully and methodically changed during the course of treatment for drug addiction, according to an ethnographic study published in Sociology of Health and Illness. And some self-perceptions and stories are significantly less welcomed by treatment providers.

Author Ditte Andersen of the Danish National Centre for Social Research used fieldnotes, recordings of conversations and interviews at two non-residential drug treatment institutions for young people in Denmark to analyze how people’s stories about themselves and the way they told those stories changed during the course of treatment.

Andersen found that “stories of change function locally as an institutional requirement” and that these stories change the way that people make sense of their own past, present and future.

“(T)he article presents four findings: (1) young people in these local drug treatment institutions are required to tell stories of change and risk exclusion if they are incapable or reluctant to do so; (2) professional treatment providers edit young people’s storytelling through different techniques, for example, questions that encourage reflection or straightforward guidance; (3) local narrative environments shape the contents of the stories and consequently the specific ways in which each story makes sense of the past, present and future, for example, through understanding past drug use as expressions of problems rather than pleasure-seeking and understanding extensive drug use as compromising femininity; and (4) storytelling is an interactive achievement where participants negotiate the meaning (e.g. of past drug use) moment-by-moment and are influenced by their specific positions and relations in the context (e.g. as peers or professionals).”

Andersen, Ditte. “Stories of Change in Drug Treatment: A Narrative Analysis of ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ in Institutional Storytelling.” Sociology of Health & Illness, February 1, 2015, n/a – n/a. doi:10.1111/1467-9566.12228.(Abstract and full text)


  1. This is a good example of the reevaluation of secondary data in qualitative research. However I would have liked to have seen a more detailed methodology section. The author should have at least referenced NOBLIT & HARE, 1988

    This goes back to one of my “theories” : The narrative is more important than the truth.

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    • Sounds like brainwashing to me, too, “understanding past drug use as expressions of problems rather than pleasure-seeking and understanding extensive drug use as compromising femininity.” Implying femininity is evil, apparently?

      I think we need to get the doctors out of the business of trying write people’s life stories, and let every human do that for themselves.

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