Relapse and recovery of substance misusing offenders: the impact of childhood, trauma, relationships & psychological health

First published: 09/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Background & aims

The UK Government’s Drug Interventions Programme (DIP) aims to reduce Class A drug misuse & the associated offending behaviour. This group have entrenched and long lasting addictions with many ‘failed’ attempts at recovery. There is no published research about DIP clients, using a qualitative methodology with regards to their psychological health, family upbringing, abuse, trauma and relationships and how these might impact on their relapse and recovery. The aim of the research is to ask community based DIP clients what they consider to be important factors in their relapse and recovery. Theories within the developmental psychology field have helped to inform the research.


Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), a qualitative thematic approach was used. Participants were adults (N=17), who used Class A drugs and were past or current DIP clients. Participants were invited to talk about their experiences of first use, relapse and recovery with a focus on the issues outlined above.


The following themes emerged, abusive childhood experiences, damaged selves and drug use as a coping and survival mechanism for managing emotions, trauma, difficult/abusive relationships and ‘normal’ everyday life – recovery was about managing these in a healthier way. A fourth theme showed how participants transitioned into and out of recovery. Those in more sustained recovery appeared to experience more internalised ‘will’, relational connecting and a range of processing capabilities (e.g. reflection & rational thinking).


The research highlights the need to offer a framework of theories and suggests no one theoretical approach is sufficient to account for such a multifaceted area as addiction and recovery in this group. The importance of a developmental trauma and attachment approach are highlighted from these findings. Implications for policy and practice will be considered and the use of IPA as a methodology for research within the addiction field.


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Dr Beverly Love