A focused ethnographic study of women in recovery from alcohol abuse

Leslie K Robbins, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston


Alcohol abuse and its related problems are among the most pervasive health and social concerns in the United States (U.S.) today. Women are especially vulnerable to the physical and social devastation of alcohol abuse. Yet, although there is extensive research about alcohol drinking patterns, treatment strategies, and early recovery, there is little information about the factors that facilitate successfully sustained abstinence in women. The purpose of this study was to examine and describe the common factors to successful recovery from alcohol abuse among women and to place these factors within both the context of their social networks and the larger social environment. This study draws from the population of New Mexico, where alcohol-related deaths are the highest of any state in the U.S. and the leading cause of death for individuals under the age of 65 years. The study was a focused ethnography of women who had successfully maintained long-term recovery from alcohol abuse. As an ethnographic study, data collection included participant observation, in-depth interviews with 21 women, and the collection of historical and current culturally relevant data. A purposive sampling plan was used to maximize the selection of participants who had used traditional and non-traditional approaches to recovery. As such, the analysis of the success narratives revealed two distinct findings: the first that women used several different trajectories to achieve long-term recovery. Three trajectory typologies were identified from the success narratives and labeled, A.A. as ceremony, A.A. as grounding, and Recovery as self-management. However, within each of these trajectories, variations in successful recovery were seen. The second major finding was that all women articulated an overarching theme of connections as an indispensable aspect of sustained recovery. The success narratives demonstrated the powerful role that connections played in their long-term recovery and the analysis distinguished two unifying concepts of connections—those that focused beyond self (spirituality, social support, and pets) and those that focused toward self (self-nurturance, agency, and identity). This discussion will focus on the implications for clinical practice related to both women who are still actively abusing alcohol and for those who are successfully maintaining long-term recovery.

Subject Area

Nursing|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Robbins, Leslie K, "A focused ethnographic study of women in recovery from alcohol abuse" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3166187.