"Drug" Subcultures: An Overview of Theories, Case Studies and Policy Responses

Dina Perrone, Rutgers University and NDRI, MHRA

Most of our information on illicit drug use is obtained through the survey method technique (see ADAM, NHSDA, MTF). This data collection method fails to permit effective theorizing of those drug users who are more often systematically left out of those surveys -- "drug" subcultures. Furthermore, this method provides prevalence and incidence of use, however it is extremely limited in understanding the context associated with use. Within these subcultures, the illicit drug using behavior is just one aspect of their subculture, and is not central to their self-identity (Hamid, 2002; Redhead, 1993; Sifaneck and HNeaigus, 2001). Without a more thorough understanding of the other aspects of the subculture, the more difficult it is for criminologists to develop effective theories and prevention programs (Sifaneck et al, 2003; Sifaneck and Neaigus, 2001). This paper presents an overview of the literature regarding subcultures that use drugs. It discusses the conceptual and definitional issues surrounding "drug" subcultures and the theoretical reasons for their use. Most importantly, it describes ethnographic works to develop an understanding of the social meanings of illicit use. Finally, this paper provides an overview of media, public and policy responses towards drug subcultures, and future policy proposals.

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Updated 05/20/2006