chapter  4
12 Pages

Illicit drug use: class, gender and ethnicity

This is a new chapter and its purpose is to provide a warning to students working in this area not to assume that the effects of illicit drug use fall evenly on all sections of the population. Whilst it is true that drug use transcends gender, class and race the manner in which that occurs, and, in some cases, the types of drugs consumed, is not consistent across different social groups. In many respects this is unsurprising as there is a large body of literature in the social sciences that demonstrates aspects of inequality of life experience, consumption patterns and provision of services. However, as with all specific areas it is important that the exact manner in which inequality manifests is understood, not least because it may serve to improve services. This chapter begins by outlining the normalisation thesis (Parker et al.

1998) both in its original form and the revisit that Howard Parker and colleagues conducted in 2002 (Parker et al. 2002). From there, it offers a more in-depth look at the use of illicit drugs in terms of gender, social class and race and ethnicity in order to explore the effects of social and cultural pressures on different social groups. For example, we know that many female problematic drug users who are committing crime often resort to prostitution, yet prostitution is not currently one of the trigger offences used to determine suitability for drug intervention programmes. Equally, we know that drug use when conducted by males can be explained as ‘normal’ risk-taking behaviour, but when undertaken by women it is seen as doubly deviant. The chapter concludes with an examination of the manner in which the media reports on illicit drug use in relation to gender, class and race and will argue that the media’s ‘horror-distortion’ techniques often provide a false impression regarding the extent and nature of drug use. However, before starting on that journey, it is important to offer a brief reminder of the current state of illicit drug use in contemporary British society.