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The Application of Labeling Theory to Alcoholism
Journal of Social Service Research (1988)
  • Terri Combs-Orme, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • John E. Helzer, Washington University in St Louis
  • Richard H. Miller

As applied to alcoholism, the labeling theory of deviance contends that being labeled by others as an alcoholic results in the acceptance of self-labels, and a self-fulfilling prophecy of alcoholic behavior. This theory was tested in a sample of treated alcoholics who varied in the numbers of alcoholic labels they acknowledged from family members and others. These alcoholics were questioned five to eight years following admission to a treatment facility to determine if they were now drinking moderately vs. abstaining or drinking heavily. The strongest predictor of all alcoholic labels was the total number of lifetime problems with alcohol; alcoholics did not tend to adopt self-labels in response to others' labels of them. Follow-up drinking status was related to gender and lifetime alcohol problems, with women and those acknowledging fewer problems more likely to be drinking moderately. Race was not related to labeling or drinking status at follow-up. The results do not support the hypothesis that being labeled an alcoholic results in poor drinking outcomes.

Publication Date
Citation Information
Terri Combs-Orme, John E. Helzer and Richard H. Miller. "The Application of Labeling Theory to Alcoholism" Journal of Social Service Research Vol. 11 Iss. 2-3 (1988)
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