The problem drinker’s lived experience of suffering: an exploration using hermeneutic phenomenology

Authors

  • Brian A. Smith MA MSc RMN DipN(London)

    1. Nurse Specialist, Alcohol Resource Team, Fulton Clinic, Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen AB25 2ZH, Scotland
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Abstract

Research in the area of problem drinking has traditionally relied on quantitative methodologies which view the problem from the researcher’s perspective. The purpose of this hermeneutic-phenomenological study was to describe and understand the problem drinker’s lived experience of suffering using a philosophy and research approach which preserves the uniqueness of the experience from the sufferer’s point of view. The method involved conducting in-depth interviews with a sample of six problem drinkers. Interviews were analysed using an interpretive process, which aimed at generating a deeper understanding of the topic by facilitating a fusion of the world views of both participant and researcher. A reflexive journal recorded the involvement of the self of the researcher throughout the research process. Suffering was viewed as a spiralling vicious circle of physical, psychological, social and spiritual distress. Symptoms of physical dependence, shame and guilt emerged strongly as being both sequelae of heavy drinking and cues to further drinking bouts. Evoking memories of previous suffering through telling one’s story was found to be an empowering and motivating force. The results have relevance to specialist and generic workers, who are urged to pay greater attention to the social, psychological and spiritual care of problem drinkers.

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