Exploring the risks, harms and pleasures of licit and illicit substance use : a study of young people in a South-Yorkshire town

Woodrow, Nicholas and Cronin, Anne and Moore, Karenza (2017) Exploring the risks, harms and pleasures of licit and illicit substance use : a study of young people in a South-Yorkshire town. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This study explores the localised substance use perceptions, practices and experiences of a sample of socioeconomically disadvantaged young people in a South-Yorkshire town in England. The study investigates how young people assess and understand the risks, harms and pleasures of substance use, and how these understandings, as well as the broader dilemmas of contemporary life, shape substance use. The study examines the contexts, meanings, motivations and consequences of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drug and novel psychoactive substance use, capturing both established and emergent practices across the participants’ leisure spaces. Data was obtained through interviews, participant observations (in street-based leisure spaces), and a targeted survey across an underexplored and ‘hard-to-reach’ cohort of young people aged between 16 and 24. The participants’ perceptions of risk, harm and pleasure were fluid and shaped by experience and exposure to substances, social and cultural norms, and access to trusted and valued knowledge sources. Risk was evaluated through a conceptualisation of the potential for experiencing harm. However, the participants were found to focus on immediate, acute, tangible, visible and social harms in their risk assessments, rather than potential chronic and long-term health harms. The substances and practices which were not perceived to be associated with such immediate issues were differentiated as less risky, irrespective of their potential for long-term harm. The participants appeared to hold potentially erroneous beliefs around their abilities to control and manage substance use, and to avoid negative and long-term harms. Such beliefs shaped substance use practices, the implementation and adherence to harm reduction strategies, and perceptions around how current and future substance use would be managed. The participants’ socioeconomic disadvantage, ‘troubled’ transitional routes and social situations resulted in many being financially, culturally and geographically excluded from ‘adult’ activities and spaces, with this shaping their leisure and substance use practices. The study highlights the enduring relationships between socioeconomic disadvantage, health inequality, and young people’s substance use. Importantly, the findings undermine and unsettle dominant discourses which characterise disadvantaged and disengaged youth as ‘reckless’ and ‘uninformed’ substance users, as well as ‘feckless’ and ‘workless’ individuals.

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Thesis (PhD)
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20 Mar 2018 12:28
Last Modified:
11 Jun 2024 23:30