The addict, regardless of drug of choice, is a chameleon.

Ask the addict for a self-explanation (life story), and the story goes through a kaleidoscope of changes depending on who’s listening.
Autobiographical accounts contain retrospective explanations and justifications that may have little to do with the person-drug relationship. The addict described by family members will never be the person described by others. Probation officers describe the addict from behind the criminality of the addict’s life. Clergy will describe the addict from spiritual emptiness aspect.  Anthropologists will describe the addict as being ‘naturalistic for that habitat’

Each view point exposes a different colour offered by and/or taken on by the addict


A complex maze, within which our feelings, attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, actions and reactions alter, adapt to suit a variety of situations – at added expense to the lost self – we get caught in doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

The Identity Search

Without knowing it, drug users build relationships with other addicts whose drug use is a mirror of their own. We drift into small groups wherein we nurture specific rituals which tell us we are ‘the firm’ or ‘the crew’. These ‘tribes’ are held together only by the type of drug being used.

Tribes do overlap, creating a wider ‘(anti)-social structure’ with similar goals.

The attitude and behavioural desires of each cultural member constitute a powerful stimulus for sustained drug use. The powerful existence of the drug culture transcends the power of the individual member.


The culture of addiction is an informal (anti) social network in which ‘group norms’ (prescribed patterns of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and behaving) promote excessive drug use.

Unpack – Discussion

“The culture of addiction is a way of life, a means of organizing one’s daily existence, and a way of viewing people and events in the ‘outside world’. It is a way of talking, walking, dressing, gesturing, believing, mating, working, playing, thinking and seeing that separates people who are ‘in the life’ from people who are not. The culture of addiction encompasses our; values, artifacts, places, rituals, relationships, symbols, music and art, all of which reinforce one’s involvement in excessive drug consumption. The culture of addiction can play a role in both initiating and sustaining substance abuse disorders”.

Alternatively, you could be the Acultural addict. The Acultural addict is the person who has initiated and sustained an addiction in isolation from other addicts. Acultural addicts sustain their addictions over time without relationships with other addicts or participation in the illicit drug culture. Acultural addicts thrive in isolation and secrecy but the physical consequences of their addictions inevitably catch them out and it is soon seen that they suffer from all the other spiritual and emotional breakages of the chronic alcoholic or heroin addict.

  1. How did your daily (ritualistic) life differ from those around you?
  2. How did you arrange your day to accommodate your problem?
  3. How did you see the ‘outside world’?
  4. How did you behave to accommodate your belief that you were different?
  5. How did you compromise your belief to justify your membership in the culture?
  6. How did the compromise of your belief snowball?
  7. How do you hold on to your membership today?
  8. How willing are you to expose and challenge your own perceptions?
  9. What type of people did you look down on in society?
  10. How many friends from the culture have sent you positive, growth messages?

Next Steps

We hope that you found these tips helpful and equipping when it comes to the culture of Addiction. If you are struggling with an Addiction or know someone who is. Please feel free to contact us and we can help you with your next steps.

Cherrywood House is a rehabilitation centre for people suffering from substance and other addictive disorders. It is situated in the tranquil, semi-rural environments of Constantia, Cape Town, South Africa. We offer  Residential Programmes, Aftercare Support Services, Outpatient Programme, Family Support Groups. For more information. Visit our Website Here.