a recovery self schema

From Active to Recovering Alcoholic – The Role of Self Schema in Recovery

Guest Blog

Filling the Empty Self

by alcoholicsguide

In the first part of this two part blog – we looked at how addicts in recovery move from a more negative (perhaps chronically negative) self schema to a more positive recovering self schema and how this now sense of self and the new interrelatedness with others which develops in recovery drives recovery and an increased self empowerment.

The self, via schema, is increasingly positive in outlook, attitude and action. In other words recovery does for the self schema, sense of self, what we could not do for our own selves, our own self schemas. The self and the self schema becomes a vehicle for increasing well being and not further disease and disorder.

It is a vehicle by which we recover.  For me it helped recover the person who I was meant to be, the person who had become so lost to alcoholism for so long. It in some ways introduced me to a person I did not really know and in many ways am still getting to know.

The fascinating thing also is that negative self perception, as we know from previous blogs, generates a brain frequency very similar to thinking about drinking and not similar to drinking itself. We presume a positive self perception does not and this not only does not lead one back to drinking but very much in the opposite direction.

We again cite from the same article as before (1) to demonstrate perhaps how self schema, especially, the recovering self schema, is so vital to recovery for alcoholism.

“….From this perspective, specific disturbances in the underlying structure of the self-concept are considered intermediary factors that serve as important mechanisms that link more distal factors (e.g., genetic factors, family history of alcohol problems) to alcohol
use. A person with a self-concept composed of few positive and many negative and highly interrelated self-schemas would not have the internal motivation necessary to facilitate adaptive behavior. The negative affect stemming from such a self-concept configuration
would be likely to motivate maladaptive
behavior in an attempt to escape the negative self views
(Baumeister, 1990) and “fill up” the empty self (Cushman, 1990).

Persons with a family history of alcohol problems or other risk factors for alcohol problems would be likely to turn to alcohol (versus other types of maladaptive behavior) as a means to escape the negative emotions. A core belief about the self in relation
to alcohol (drinker self-schema) would be likely to form as drinking experience accumulates and similarities across drinking-related incidents are abstracted. Such a drinking-related self-schema
would serve to motivate schema-consistent (drinking)
According to the hypothesized model, a person in sustained recovery (long-term abstinence) would have a more well-developed self-concept—one that consists of newly developed positive self-schemas and a recoveryrelated
self-schema. The recovery self-schema is conceptualized
as central to the recovery process as it would serve to motivate schema-consistent (recovery) behaviors.

During the process of recovery, new positive self-schemas are likely to form as a result of new relationships, activities, and involvements. The development of new positive self-schemas would diminish the proportion of negative self-schemas and the overall level of interrelatedness among the self-schemas.





… findings provide empirical evidence that (a) young adults with early-onset alcohol dependence have impaired self-concepts that are characterized by many negative self-schemas, a tendency toward few positive self-schemas, and an elaborated self-schema related to alcohol; and (b) young adults in recovery have healthier self-concepts characterized by few negative self-schemas, a tendency toward many positive self-schemas, and an elaborated recovery related self-schema.

If further longitudinal research studies demonstrate that the self-concept configuration that we found in persons with early-onset alcohol dependence contributes to the development of the disorder,
then prevention strategies aimed at children and adolescents
could be beneficial, particularly for those children who are at risk for alcohol problems based on the presence of other risk factors (e.g., familial alcohol problems, conduct problems). More specifically, interventions designed to build a healthy self-concept (by
fostering the development of a diverse collection of positive self-schemas, thereby decreasing the relative proportion of negative self-schemas) may serve as a protective factor that buffers the effects of the more distal risk factors.

At the other end of the spectrum, the data from our study suggest that interventions may also profitably focus on fostering the development of a recovery self schema in persons with alcohol dependence. 

…the nature of any recovery related intervention would depend on how ready the person is to change. For a person who does not yet recognize that alcohol is a problem, the goal would not be
to foster the development of a recovery schema but to help him or her identify that drinking is a problem.

One possible way to do this is to assist the person to make associative links across the multitude of negative alcohol-related outcomes so that rather than a series of unrelated incidents, the individual begins to see a pattern of repeated, enduring, and pervasive alcohol-related problems.

when the individual is able to pull unpleasant alcohol related episodic memories together to identify that he or she indeed has a problem with alcohol. So whereas
assisting the person to increase his or her awareness
of problems with alcohol is consistent with the basic
tenets of motivational interviewing (Miller & Rollnick,
2002), fostering the development of a recovery self schema
is not.

For people who recognize that they have a problem with alcohol or people who are seeking treatment for alcohol problems, one strategy may be to foster the idea that they can be recovering persons— that is, that recovery is possible for them. Fostering communication with other recovering persons and encouraging involvement in recovery-related activities may help to form a recovery-related “possible self”—a future-oriented conception of the self one “hopes to be,” that is, a recovering person.

Imagining the self in the future by developing detailed images of what one would be like in recovery is an important part of this process. Participation in 12-step recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous that explicitly foster the development of a recovery related identity may also be helpful…

In fact, one plausible explanation…for an emerging recovery related self-schema is that the alcohol dependent participants were in a treatment  facility based on such a 12-step recovery program.



1. Corte, C. (2007). Schema model of the self-concept to examine the role of the self-concept in alcohol dependence and recovery.Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 13(1), 31-41.


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