Older women managing relationships and navigating health in drugs recovery: A qualitative study

Shaw, April (2021) Older women managing relationships and navigating health in drugs recovery: A qualitative study. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The proportion of older people using illicit drugs in the UK has increased significantly over the last decade. Despite this, there are relatively few UK studies that explore the lived experiences of older people who use illicit drugs and fewer still that seek to understand the experiences of older women. The aim of this thesis therefore is to contribute a number of important insights into this neglected area of older women’s experiences of drug use and recovery. It does this by exploring the lived experiences of 19 women from Scotland and North East England ranging in age from 36 to 60, who made the move from illicit drug use to recovery, focusing specifically on their social relationships, health and bodies, and the therapeutic landscape available to them as mid-life and older women.

Grounded in symbolic interactionism and methodologically feminist, this study is qualitative in design and approach. Seeking to explore the women’s experiences from their particular standpoints, the semi-structured interviews included the use of meaningful objects. Including objects in the interviews provided a collaborative opportunity to explore the memories, images and meanings women gave to their possessions. Data analysis was inductive and followed Braun and Clarke’s six phases of thematic analysis, including an open and selective coding strategy. The data analysis raised important insights into the relatively unexplored area of family dynamics among older women in recovery. This demonstrated how recovery was for many a work in progress in which interactions with others, participation in social activities, belonging to social networks and engaging in everyday routines encouraged them to set boundaries and assume more control over their relationships. Thus they developed a sense of self far removed from their former identities as women who used drugs. Recovery as it was felt by the women was a complex bodily process in which the absence of drugs brought forward new pains and bodily sensations which they had to learn to manage and understand as ageing, recovering, drug-free bodies. The findings further highlighted how menstruation and the menopause were events that could interrupt and disrupt the women’s bodies and where symptoms needed to be reinterpreted as natural bodily processes.

This thesis contributes to the wider literature on people who use drugs and crucially adds women’s voices to the neglected but important area of older people’s experiences of recovery from illicit drug use. The women’s stories weave a rich tapestry of experiences that go beyond the usual tropes of pregnancy, motherhood and intimate relationships. They reveal how relationships with significant others are just one thread in their recovery. Disentangling the threads in the women’s narratives, a picture emerges of women’s everyday interactions and relationships with objects, significant others, treatment others, and their own ageing and recovering bodies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Older women, drug use, recovery, ageing, relationships, health, treatment.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Pickering, Dr. Lucy and Reith, Professor Gerda
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82420
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2021 10:33
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2022 16:46
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82420
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82420

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