Women drug users in North Cumbria: what are the influences upon their problem drug use?

Payne, Jennifer A.M. (2006) Women drug users in North Cumbria: what are the influences upon their problem drug use? PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The predominant impression of women's problem drug use has been that they are encouraged or oppressed into addiction by male counterparts, and a stereotype has emerged of passive companions. More recently this has been challenged by research which has proposed that women may be active players in the decision to try illegal drugs, and that they may even use substances as an articulation of their emancipation. Most sociological research has tended to focus on male drug users who remain the majority population, but there is increasing evidence that gendered patterns of drug use are converging. The overarching aim of this study was to provide a descriptive account of influences on women's problem drug use in North Cumbria, and to contribute to knowledge about their initiation into heroin use, as well as the pattern and progression of developing drug dependence. North Cumbria is a relatively isolated area and encompasses more than two thirds of the second most sparsely populated county in England. Cumbria contains some of the most spectacular countryside, juxtaposed with areas of multiple disadvantage, particularly along the coastal fringe. Despite its relatively remote location. North Cumbria experiences the effects of problem drug use, with heroin often identified as the drug of choice: recent data confirm that this is particularly evident within its more disadvantaged communities. Qualitative methods were selected for this study because of its exploratory nature and intention to account for the influences on local women's drug use, which comprised the research question. It has previously been found that women drug users tend to be 'hard to reach', and there were significant difficulties experienced in contacting participants, apparently because many women fear identification as addicts, particularly if they are mothers. Interviewees were therefore mainly contacted through sponsors in health and social care agencies in both the statutory and voluntary sector. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with thirty women drug users, over a period of two years, using a prepared topic guide. This guide facilitated the setting out of the women's experiences and therefore broad topics of interest, derived from a review of the literature, were selected to allow the inductive process to develop. Women were encouraged to tell the story of their drug use, often describing specific instances of using heroin within social settings, and they put forward opinions about any influences on their behaviour. Interviewees were also willing to share ideas for improvements in services for women drug users, which were derived from their own lived experience. Themes and concepts were accounted for by describing any variations between women's experiences, and sampling ceased when 'theoretical saturation' was reached because nothing new continued to emerge (Glaser & Strauss, 1957). Interviewees' responses underlined the heterogeneity of women drug users and their experiences, but consistent themes were identified and analysed. The key findings from this study have been identified as the need to acknowledge: interviewees' declared agency in the decision to use heroin; their intention to seek pleasure from the heroin-using experience; their claims that certain predisposing factors might have made them susceptible to initiation; and their belief that the introduction of a peer-mentor intervention in North Cumbria could benefit other women drug users. In conclusion, this study has expanded the argument which has queried previous castings of women addicts as merely compliant in their involvement in problem drug use. Indeed, it seems that it is erroneous to view women drug users as mere victims of the drug culture, since interviewees denied coercion and often said that they had chosen to use heroin from curiosity, or to seek new experiences. The women's assertion that certain predisposing factors might have made them susceptible to problem drug use, and that these issues had sometimes remained unresolved, implies that gender-sensitivity in assessments is important, recognizing difference but avoiding stereotypical gender assumptions. Finally, many interviewees believed that a peer mentor support project could influence and promote recovery from addiction in North Cumbria, and it is both imperative and pragmatic that women drug users themselves are involved in the shaping of their local services.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Social research, women, drug use, addiction, North Cumbria.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences
Supervisor's Name: McKeganey, Prof. Neil
Date of Award: 2006
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2006-71072
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2021 17:00
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71072

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