Victory or defeat: narratives of recovery and chronic substance misuse revealed through the “Life as a Film”

David Rowlands, Donna Youngs, David Canter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Recent “Life as a film” (LAAF) studies demonstrate a relationship between themes of agency and communion in life stories and substance misuse recovery, contrasting with theme deficits in addicted populations, suggesting pathways to positive identity change. The present study aims to elucidate other key constructs differentiating recovery and non-recovery to comprehensively model interactive narrative processes. Methods: The LAAF procedure was used to collect personal narratives in a cohort of 32 active or recovering substance users. Narratives were coded for themes of interest and an inventory was used to assess recovery. Results: Analysis revealed two narrative structures: the first, comprising self-mastery, unity, redemption, healer, and happy ending, was significantly correlated with recovery outcomes, representing a Victory story; the second, comprising compulsion, avoidance, contamination, escapist, and sad ending, significantly correlated with non-recovery outcomes, representing a Defeat story. Conclusions: Findings build on previous observations to reveal constellations of interrelated self-story themes distinguishing activity or recovery from substance misuse. This enriches understanding of psychological processes associated with ongoing addiction and recovery, developing a meaningful framework of opposing narrative structures using the LAAF model, with proposed integrated pathways to positive identity and behavioral change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-101
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Substance Use
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


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