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‘Screwed for life’: Examining identification and division in addiction narratives

Denise Jodlowski / Barbara F Sharf / Loralee Capistrano Nguyen / Paul Haidet / Lechauncy D Woodard
Published Online: 2007-08-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CAM.2007.003


In this study, we investigate the use of narrative in online conversations among persons suffering from chronic opiate addiction and evaluate both its positive and negative uses. Illness narratives, as argued by sociologist Arthur Frank and psychiatrist/medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman, enable patients to give order to life experiences and receive support from others. We wished to explore under what circumstances online support coalesces and breaks apart. The narratives we examined exemplify two topics frequently discussed on the message board: the recovery process and what it means to be ‘clean’. To better understand these narratives from a theoretically based approach, we used the work of rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke. Burke's description of two human motives, suffering and perfection, led us to an understanding of how unification and division happened within the online community. We found that the recovery narrative primarily embodied the author's suffering and, consequently, received support from other members of the message board. The second narrative centered on what it means to be ‘clean’ through a discussion of the author's desire to court temptation, revealing what Burke calls the rotten nature of perfection. As a result, the author of the narrative provoked disagreements and did not receive support.

Keywords: illness narratives; opiate addiction; social support; recovery; Online communication; Burke

About the article

Denise Jodlowski

Denise Jodlowski (M.A., Wake Forest University) is a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University in the Department of Communication, where she studies rhetoric and health communication.

Barbara F Sharf

Dr. Barbara F. Sharf (Ph.D., University of Minnesota) is Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University, where she teaches courses in health communication, interpretive methods, and narrative inquiry. In 2005, she was selected as the National Communication Association/International Communication Association Outstanding Health Communication Scholar.

Loralee Capistrano Nguyen

Loralee Capistrano Nguyen (M.P.H., University of Texas Health Science Center) is a research staff member at the Houston Center for Quality of Care and Utilization Studies, the health services research section of Baylor College of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs in Houston, Texas.

Paul Haidet

Paul Haidet (M.D., M.P.H.) is a staff physician at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Lechauncy D Woodard

LeChauncy D. Woodard (M.D., M.P.H.) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the Department of Medicine, Division of Health Services Research at Baylor College of Medicine.

*Address for correspondence: Texas A&M University, Department of Communication, 4234 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4234.

Published Online: 2007-08-22

Published in Print: 2007-05-29

Citation Information: Communication, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 15–26, ISSN (Online) 1613-4087, ISSN (Print) 0341-2059, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CAM.2007.003.

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