Negotiating the criminality and deviance assoicated with illicit substance use: A discourse analysis of interviews with recreational drug takers.

  • Rebecca Askew

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis focuses on how the deviance and criminality associated with illegal drugs are negotiated by adult recreational drug takers. The empirical research incorporates twenty-six interviews with people aged between 30 and 59, who have taken drugs within the past year. The participant group comprised equal numbers of males and females in a variety of jobs in the private, public, and voluntary sector. Some were parents and many were in long-term partnerships. The analysis of the interviews employed discursive psychology, which is a form of discourse analysis that focused upon how drug taking is justified, reasoned and described by the participants. As a result of this analysis, six frameworks were formulated, which describe how drug use is legitimised by the participants. These are: the reformed hedonism; the planned celebration; the drug cultures; the socialisation; the moderation; and the situational opportunity frameworks. Each of the frameworks is unique and demonstrates differences in: drug taking choices and preferences, the social context in which drugs are taken, and how drug use is controlled and maintained within adult life. These frameworks are not representations of drug taking 'identities'; nor are they designed to unearth the 'truth' about drug consumption patterns, but they illustrate how participants present themselves with reference to their behaviour. The thesis also introduces a newly developed concept termed, drugscrimination. This is where participants make reference to a level of unacceptable drug taking behaviour, which is out of control, dysfunctional and driven by the desire for extreme intoxication. Drugscrimination is a is 'technique of neutralisation' (Matza and Sykes, 1957) whereby participants justify their own drug use by outlining it as less risky than other types of drug taking behaviour. The participants did not view their own behaviour as morally wrong, nor were they widely condemned for it by their friends and family. Participants were mostly concerned about the impact knowledge of their drug use could have on their jobs and careers. In addition, parents with young children were concerned others would question their ability to effectively parent their children. Different discourses are utilised to reason opinions about the correct societal response to drugs. These relate to the discourses of: addiction, freedom, acceptance, tolerance, and conformity. Each discourse can be used to either support or reject drug law and policy, which demonstrates the complexities of understanding drug use in society. Participants feel they should be able to make their own rational decisions about their behaviour; however these should be responsible choices, which are respectful of individual health and well-being, and should not negatively impact others in society.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJudith Aldridge (Supervisor), Lisa Williams (Supervisor) & Toby Seddon (Supervisor)


  • adult drug use, deviance, discursive psychology, legitimisation

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