A lifetime of living sober
: an exploration of how people with an alcohol use disorder use self-help groups in pursuance of a lifetime of sobriety, using Alcoholics Anonymous as an exemplar.

  • Brendan Murphy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Background: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is an- increasing global issue and this study addresses an existing gap in addiction research by exploring how self-help groups support members in achieving a lifetime of recovery.

Aim: To increase the understanding of how people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) use 12 step self-help groups to achieve a lifetime of sobriety.

Methodology: This research was based on qualitative methodology drawing on interpretative phenomenological analytic principles. In total, 23 purposively selected members of AA from five different countries across five different decades of sobriety were interviewed. The 5 groups had six participants with 10 years of unbroken sobriety, five with 20 years, five with 30 years, 5 with 40 years and two with more than fifty years.

Findings: Four main findings emerged
(i) An overarching theme, “moving from alcohol dependence to living happy, joyous and free”, was identified, deriving from eight recurrent themes.
(ii) Cognitive impairments affect recovery for many months; with true stabilization taking many years.
(iii) There are, in fact, core elements to Alcoholics Anonymous group’s undefined“message” and
(iv) AA’s “12 promises” come true in line with the recovery process.

Discussion and Recommendations: While self-help groups can succeed, interventions at an early education level have an excellent potential to address addiction precursors. Accepting severe dependence as lifelong conditions facilitates a “remission” rather than a “cure” approach. Rehabilitation organizations need to be more cognizant of the findings that cognitive impairments impair client’s ability to absorb rational thoughts, cognitive processing, sobriety-based knowledge and new practices for many months and that early admission to such therapeutic facilities are unlikely to produce very low successful

Conclusion: Experiences of a self-help group for people with AUD can provide the context of mutual support necessary for the realization of an enriched abstinent life in recovery; this process may translate to treatment of other dependency behaviors.
Date of AwardNov 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnne Moorhead (Supervisor) & Maggie Long (Supervisor)


  • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
  • Lifetime recovery
  • Self-help groups
  • Sobriety
  • Messages for recovery
  • Alcoholics Anonymous

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