Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the strange case of the two selves of clandestine drug users in Scotland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to explore the hidden social worlds of competent clandestine users of drugs controlled within the confines of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which now includes NPS substances. The authors explore how and in what way socially competent drug users differ from others who are visible to the authorities as criminals by criminal justice bureaucracies and known to treatment agencies as defined problem drug users.

Design/methodology/approach
This qualitative research utilises a bricoleur ethnographic methodology considered as a critical, multi-perspectival, multi-theoretical and multi-methodological approach to inquiry.

Findings
This paper challenges addiction discourses and, drawing upon empirical evidence, argues the user of controlled drugs should not be homogenised. Using several key strategies of identity management, drug takers employ a range of risk awareness and risk neutralisation techniques to protect self-esteem, avoid social affronts and in maintaining untainted identities. The authors present illicit drug use as one activity amongst other social activities that (some) people, conventionally, pursue. The findings from this study suggest that punitive drug policy, which links drug use with addiction, crime and antisocial behaviour, is inconsistent with the experience of the participants.

Research limitations/implications
Due to the small sample size (n=24) employed, the possibility that findings can be generalised is rendered difficult. However, generalisation was never an objective of the research; the experiences of this hidden population are deeply subjective and generalising findings and applying them to other populations would be an unproductive endeavour. While the research attempted to recruit an equal number of males and females to this research, gendered analysis was not a primary objective of this research. However, it is acknowledged that future research would greatly benefit from such a gendered focus.

Practical implications
The insights from the study may be useful in helping to inform future policy discourse on issues of drug use. In particular, the insights suggest that a more nuanced perspective should be adopted. This perspective should recognise the non-deviant identities of many drug users in the contemporary era, and challenge the use of a universally stigmatising discourse and dominance of prohibition narratives.

Social implications
It is envisaged that this paper will contribute to knowledge on how socially competent users of controlled drugs identify and manage the risks of moral, medical and legal censure.

Originality/value
The evidence in this paper indicates that drug use is an activity often associated with non-deviant, productive members of the population. However, the continuing dominance of stigmatising policy discourses often leads to drug users engaging in identity concealment within the context of a deeply capitalist Western landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-146
Number of pages14
JournalDrugs and Alcohol Today
Volume19
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2019

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Ego
Scotland
Drug Users
drug
drug use
Pharmaceutical Preparations
Research
discourse
addiction
Population
Criminal Law
Qualitative Research
neutralization
drug problem
Street Drugs
drug policy
Crime
Drugs
Self Concept
methodology

Keywords

  • drug taking
  • social identity
  • illicit
  • illegal
  • ethnography
  • qualitative research

Cite this

@article{1831c4b8f78f4f1a9a300ffb74b8b2bc,
title = "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the strange case of the two selves of clandestine drug users in Scotland",
abstract = "PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to explore the hidden social worlds of competent clandestine users of drugs controlled within the confines of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which now includes NPS substances. The authors explore how and in what way socially competent drug users differ from others who are visible to the authorities as criminals by criminal justice bureaucracies and known to treatment agencies as defined problem drug users.Design/methodology/approachThis qualitative research utilises a bricoleur ethnographic methodology considered as a critical, multi-perspectival, multi-theoretical and multi-methodological approach to inquiry.FindingsThis paper challenges addiction discourses and, drawing upon empirical evidence, argues the user of controlled drugs should not be homogenised. Using several key strategies of identity management, drug takers employ a range of risk awareness and risk neutralisation techniques to protect self-esteem, avoid social affronts and in maintaining untainted identities. The authors present illicit drug use as one activity amongst other social activities that (some) people, conventionally, pursue. The findings from this study suggest that punitive drug policy, which links drug use with addiction, crime and antisocial behaviour, is inconsistent with the experience of the participants.Research limitations/implicationsDue to the small sample size (n=24) employed, the possibility that findings can be generalised is rendered difficult. However, generalisation was never an objective of the research; the experiences of this hidden population are deeply subjective and generalising findings and applying them to other populations would be an unproductive endeavour. While the research attempted to recruit an equal number of males and females to this research, gendered analysis was not a primary objective of this research. However, it is acknowledged that future research would greatly benefit from such a gendered focus.Practical implicationsThe insights from the study may be useful in helping to inform future policy discourse on issues of drug use. In particular, the insights suggest that a more nuanced perspective should be adopted. This perspective should recognise the non-deviant identities of many drug users in the contemporary era, and challenge the use of a universally stigmatising discourse and dominance of prohibition narratives.Social implicationsIt is envisaged that this paper will contribute to knowledge on how socially competent users of controlled drugs identify and manage the risks of moral, medical and legal censure.Originality/valueThe evidence in this paper indicates that drug use is an activity often associated with non-deviant, productive members of the population. However, the continuing dominance of stigmatising policy discourses often leads to drug users engaging in identity concealment within the context of a deeply capitalist Western landscape.",
keywords = "drug taking, social identity, illicit, illegal, ethnography, qualitative research",
author = "Iain McPhee and Chris Holligan and Robert McLean and Ross Deuchar",
year = "2019",
month = "4",
day = "8",
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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde : the strange case of the two selves of clandestine drug users in Scotland. / McPhee, Iain; Holligan, Chris; McLean, Robert; Deuchar, Ross.

In: Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 19, No. 2, 08.04.2019, p. 133-146.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

T2 - the strange case of the two selves of clandestine drug users in Scotland

AU - McPhee, Iain

AU - Holligan, Chris

AU - McLean, Robert

AU - Deuchar, Ross

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N2 - PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to explore the hidden social worlds of competent clandestine users of drugs controlled within the confines of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which now includes NPS substances. The authors explore how and in what way socially competent drug users differ from others who are visible to the authorities as criminals by criminal justice bureaucracies and known to treatment agencies as defined problem drug users.Design/methodology/approachThis qualitative research utilises a bricoleur ethnographic methodology considered as a critical, multi-perspectival, multi-theoretical and multi-methodological approach to inquiry.FindingsThis paper challenges addiction discourses and, drawing upon empirical evidence, argues the user of controlled drugs should not be homogenised. Using several key strategies of identity management, drug takers employ a range of risk awareness and risk neutralisation techniques to protect self-esteem, avoid social affronts and in maintaining untainted identities. The authors present illicit drug use as one activity amongst other social activities that (some) people, conventionally, pursue. The findings from this study suggest that punitive drug policy, which links drug use with addiction, crime and antisocial behaviour, is inconsistent with the experience of the participants.Research limitations/implicationsDue to the small sample size (n=24) employed, the possibility that findings can be generalised is rendered difficult. However, generalisation was never an objective of the research; the experiences of this hidden population are deeply subjective and generalising findings and applying them to other populations would be an unproductive endeavour. While the research attempted to recruit an equal number of males and females to this research, gendered analysis was not a primary objective of this research. However, it is acknowledged that future research would greatly benefit from such a gendered focus.Practical implicationsThe insights from the study may be useful in helping to inform future policy discourse on issues of drug use. In particular, the insights suggest that a more nuanced perspective should be adopted. This perspective should recognise the non-deviant identities of many drug users in the contemporary era, and challenge the use of a universally stigmatising discourse and dominance of prohibition narratives.Social implicationsIt is envisaged that this paper will contribute to knowledge on how socially competent users of controlled drugs identify and manage the risks of moral, medical and legal censure.Originality/valueThe evidence in this paper indicates that drug use is an activity often associated with non-deviant, productive members of the population. However, the continuing dominance of stigmatising policy discourses often leads to drug users engaging in identity concealment within the context of a deeply capitalist Western landscape.

AB - PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to explore the hidden social worlds of competent clandestine users of drugs controlled within the confines of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which now includes NPS substances. The authors explore how and in what way socially competent drug users differ from others who are visible to the authorities as criminals by criminal justice bureaucracies and known to treatment agencies as defined problem drug users.Design/methodology/approachThis qualitative research utilises a bricoleur ethnographic methodology considered as a critical, multi-perspectival, multi-theoretical and multi-methodological approach to inquiry.FindingsThis paper challenges addiction discourses and, drawing upon empirical evidence, argues the user of controlled drugs should not be homogenised. Using several key strategies of identity management, drug takers employ a range of risk awareness and risk neutralisation techniques to protect self-esteem, avoid social affronts and in maintaining untainted identities. The authors present illicit drug use as one activity amongst other social activities that (some) people, conventionally, pursue. The findings from this study suggest that punitive drug policy, which links drug use with addiction, crime and antisocial behaviour, is inconsistent with the experience of the participants.Research limitations/implicationsDue to the small sample size (n=24) employed, the possibility that findings can be generalised is rendered difficult. However, generalisation was never an objective of the research; the experiences of this hidden population are deeply subjective and generalising findings and applying them to other populations would be an unproductive endeavour. While the research attempted to recruit an equal number of males and females to this research, gendered analysis was not a primary objective of this research. However, it is acknowledged that future research would greatly benefit from such a gendered focus.Practical implicationsThe insights from the study may be useful in helping to inform future policy discourse on issues of drug use. In particular, the insights suggest that a more nuanced perspective should be adopted. This perspective should recognise the non-deviant identities of many drug users in the contemporary era, and challenge the use of a universally stigmatising discourse and dominance of prohibition narratives.Social implicationsIt is envisaged that this paper will contribute to knowledge on how socially competent users of controlled drugs identify and manage the risks of moral, medical and legal censure.Originality/valueThe evidence in this paper indicates that drug use is an activity often associated with non-deviant, productive members of the population. However, the continuing dominance of stigmatising policy discourses often leads to drug users engaging in identity concealment within the context of a deeply capitalist Western landscape.

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KW - illicit

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