‘I don’t think there’s much of a rational mind in a drug addict when they are in the thick of it’: towards an embodied analysis of recovering heroin users

S. Nettleton, Joanne Neale, L. Pickering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of the sociological literature on recovery from heroin use has been located within the symbolic interactionist tradition and has revealed the salience of identity for the recovery process, and has focused upon actors’ cognitions. By contrast, less attention has been paid to former users’ bodies. The aim of this paper therefore is to focus upon the embodied aspects of recovery from heroin use. To this end, we deploy the notions of bodily ‘dys-appearance’ and ‘habitual action’ as sensitising concepts to undertake an analysis of data generated by 40 qualitative interviews carried out with 21 men and 19 women who are overcoming their addiction to heroin in England. Analytically, we distinguish between using bodies and recovering bodies. In the case of the former, ‘habitual action’ is relatively urgent and routinised; in the case of the latter, however, habitual action is more difficult to maintain because the bodily dys-appearances associated with the transition from heroin use are relatively more multifaceted and unfamiliar. The body techniques associated with embodied reproduction of using and recovering bodies can be pre-cognitive, easily overlooked and yet, embedded as they are in mundane, everyday activities, they constitute a crucial part of the process of recovery from heroin.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-355
Number of pages15
JournalSociology of Health and Illness: A Journal of Medical Sociology
Issue number3
Early online date5 Nov 2010
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

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