I wonder what age you grow out of it?": Negotiation of recreational drug use and the transition to adulthood among an Australian ethnographic sample
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Aims: Positioned by work of normalisation researchers, this article examines how “recreational” styles of drug use were negotiated by young adults in relation to emerging “adult” identities. Methods: Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in Perth, Western Australia. This involved 18 months of field observations within a network of approximately 60 non-service-engaged 18–31 year olds among whom amphetamine-type stimulant use was a common activity and 25 in-depth interviews with a sub-sample (average age, 25 years) who used illicit drugs at least monthly. Findings: While most participants began to “age out” of drug use by their mid-twenties, the process was uneven and individualised. Some did not perceive a need to “quit” using drugs at all. While health and wellbeing and work-related responsibilities informed decisions by many to use less frequently of “quit”, negotiation of non-stigmatised and “normal” identities – especially among friends and partners – appeared to most strongly inform decision-making. Conclusions: Values associated with “ageing out” of illicit drug use are more nuanced and contested than have been depicted within typical accounts of “normalised” drug use. This study found that they are complicated by uncertain and protracted transitions into adulthood in contemporary society but also by the continued stigmatisation of drug users.
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