, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 568–587 | Cite as

“I don’t have to know why it snows, I just have to shovel it!”: Addiction recovery, genetic frameworks, and biological citizenship

  • Molly J. Dingel
  • Jenny Ostergren
  • Kathleen Heaney
  • Barbara A. Koenig
  • Jennifer McCormick
Original Article


The gene has infiltrated the way citizens perceive themselves and their health. However, there is scant research that explores the ways genetic conceptions infiltrate individuals’ understanding of their own health as it relates to a behavioral trait such as addiction. Do people seeking treatment for addiction ground their self-perception in biology in a way that shapes their experiences? We interviewed 63 participants in addiction treatment programs, asking how they make meaning of a genetic understanding of addiction in the context of their recovery, and in dealing with the stigma of addiction. About two-thirds of people in our sample did not find a genetic conception of addiction personally useful to them in treatment, instead believing that the cause was irrelevant to their daily struggle to remain abstinent. One-third of respondents believed that an individualized confirmation of a genetic predisposition to addiction would facilitate their dealing with feelings of shame and accept treatment. The vast majority of our sample believed that a genetic understanding of addiction would reduce the stigma associated with addiction, which demonstrates the perceived power of genetic explanations in U.S. society. Our results indicate that respondents (unevenly) ground their self-perception of themselves as an addicted individual in biology.


addiction substance use alcohol/alcoholism behavioral genetics 



The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research: The project described was supported by Grant Number R01 DA014577 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Mayo Clinic S.C. Johnson Genomics of Addiction Program, and Grant Number UL1 TR000135 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Molly J. Dingel
    • 1
  • Jenny Ostergren
    • 2
  • Kathleen Heaney
    • 3
  • Barbara A. Koenig
    • 4
  • Jennifer McCormick
    • 5
  1. 1.University of Minnesota Rochester300 University SquareRochesterUSA
  2. 2.University of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Hennepin County Medical CenterMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.Institute for Health & AgingUniversity of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  5. 5.Pennsylvania State UniversityHersheyUSA

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