Drug use and social change : secondary analysis of the British Crime Survey (1994-8) and Youth Lifestyles Survey (1998/9)
During the second half of the twentieth century illicit drug use went from being something that was very unusual to something that most young people had at least some experience of. This apparent transformation has been attributed to the advent of post-modernity and is said to require a new explanatory framework. Established perspectives, it is argued, have been rendered obsolete as drug use has moved from the margins to the mainstream of British youth culture and as traditional distinctions between users and non-users have disintegrated. Based on two large-scale nationally representative household surveys, this thesis examines the evidence for such claims. It begins by developing an empirically grounded classification of drug use, before going on to consider how young adults' use of illicit drugs varies according to a range of characteristics. Significant differences are noted on the basis of demographic characteristics, broader lifestyle choices and position in the life-course. These differences show that recreational drug use typically occurs in the context of a distinctly hedonist lifestyle which is heavily concentrated among young people in the early stages of the transition into adulthood. Alongside active participation in the night-time economy, regular binge-drinking and frequent drunkenness, drug use appears to provide young people with a means of making sense of their position in the social structure and celebrating freedom from adult roles and responsibilities. It follows from these findings that increases in drug use have been facilitated by the cultural and structural changes associated with development of modernity, particularly the extension of early adult transitions and the growing emphasis on leisure. That said, increases in drug use have not taken the sudden or dramatic form that is sometimes suggested and this implies a certain degree of continuity. It also indicates that established perspectives have rather more to offer than is generally supposed.