16 June 2011

Drug use no longer regarded as deviant.

Let’s just accept it, OK. It’s a fact. Pointless trying to deny it. People take drugs. People, especially young people, use drugs at some point in their lives. (1)

It is not an ‘underground’ thing or ‘a subterranean activity’. ‘Indeed, some commentators have, on the basis of survey data, argued that drug use by young people is becoming so common that it is no longer regarded as a 'deviant' activity by them. Put another way, they claim that drug use among young people is becoming ‘normalised’ (1).



What does ‘normalised’ mean? To prove something is 'normal', it is necessary to show that as well as being widespread, this form of behaviour has become accepted as normal. That is it is not deviant. 'The critical variable in the study of deviance, then, is the social audience rather than the individual actor, since it is the audience which eventually determines whether or not any episode or behaviour or any class of episodes is labelled deviant.' (2) This emphasis on the contingent nature of ‘deviance' is clearly reflected in the process of normalisation. So, as well as being widespread, this form of behaviour has become accepted as normal. It’s called the 'normalisation thesis' (3) and predicts that 'over the next few years, and certainly in urban areas, non drug- trying adolescents will be a minority group. In one sense they will be the deviants'. It is underpinned by a subcultural perspective in which the liberal permissive- ness of youth culture is contrasted with the conservative restrictiveness of the adult world.


This theory is supported and endorsed not just by behaviourists but by social scientists too. Coffield and Gofton wrote of the 'ubiquity of drugs among the young' and claimed that 'drug taking is. . . part and parcel of the process of growing up in contemporary Britain'. (4) Drug use is seen as being unproblematic by most young people it is seen as a problem by 'their uncomprehending parents’ ...their largely uninformed teachers and...the police'. Hirst and McCamley-Finney argued that young people are 'constantly surprised at adults' perceptions of drugs as something dangerous or unusual as, for most of them, they are part of their life' (5)


The Guardian reported that 'an underground movement, which started in 1988 with the advent of house music to this country, has almost invisibly expanded into a giant culture.

The secret is out; the adult world has had thrust upon it the attitudes and lifestyle of a generation it does not understand' (6).




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(1) Sociology, vol. 31, no. 3, 511-529 1997 - DEFINITELY, MAYBE NOT? THE NORMALISATION OF RECREATIONAL DRUG USE AMONGST YOUNG PEOPLE - MICHAEL SHINER and TIM NEWBURN - http://www.brown.uk.com/brownlibrary/DRUG.htm


BALDING, J. 1994. Young People and Illegal Drugs. Exeter: Health Education Unit, University of Exeter.


RAMSAY, M. and PERCY, A. 1996. Drug Misuse Declared: Results of the 1994 British Crime Survey. Home Office Research Study 151. London: Home Office.


(2) (Rock 1973: 84) ROCK, P. 1973. Deviant Behaviour. London: Hutchinson.


(3) PARKER, H., MEASHAM, F. and ALDRIDGE, J. 1995. Drugs Futures: Changing Patterns of Drug Use Amongst English Youth. London: Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence.


(4) COFFIELD, F. and GOFTEN, L. 1994. Drugs and Young People. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.


(5) HIRST, J. and MCCAMLEY-FINNEY, A. 1994. The Place and Meaning of Drugs in the Lives of Young People. Sheffield: Health Research Institute, Sheffield Hallam University.


(6) HODGKINSON, T. 1995. 'Who takes and eats?' Guardian, 17 November.

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