Westwell, Gary (2022) The Role of Personal Meaning for Alcoholics in Achieving and Successfully Maintaining Sobriety. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The aim of this study is to gain a greater understanding of the role of personal meaning in the lives of people previously deemed as alcoholics who have now successfully achieved and continue to maintain sobriety, including longer-term sobriety.

Existing research studies have addressed the early stages of achieving sobriety but very few have discussed the issues involved in the long-term maintenance of change. This research study aims to make an original contribution by not only addressing the early stages of change but also the maintenance of these changes and maintaining them over the longer term. The study aims to add to the existing understanding of personal change, specifically in relation to alcoholism, through a focus on the role of personal meaning in change for alcoholics. The research adopted a qualitative interpretive methodology and used Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) as its theoretical framework. The constructivist approach of PCP considers behaviour as being shaped by the personal meaning that events and experiences hold for people.

Eighteen semi-structured interviews were completed. Seven women and eleven men attending an alcoholism self-help group based in the North of England were interviewed in depth about their experiences of becoming sober and maintaining sobriety. At the time of the interviews all the participants had remained sober for between two and ten years. The study examined their perceptions of becoming sober and how they had managed to maintain this change. The interviews were analysed using Template Analysis and the findings have been interpreted within a PCP theoretical framework. The key findings to emerge from the analysis include the importance of the PCP theoretical concept of validation, which is a particular form of support from others and the involvment of families and friends in both helping and hindering recovery and its maintainence. The participants reported the use of imagination in order to rehearse the anticipated changes they needed to make before the changes were made in the ‘real world’. In addition, the participants spoke of imagining and anticipating a new sense of self, a sober self and what this new self meant to them. There was also evidence that the participants had reconstrued both themselves and others and now had new perceptions of both. It is hoped that the findings will inform interventions that may help more alcoholics to successfuly achieve and maintain change.

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