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Illegal Leisure: The Normalization of Adolescent Recreational Drug Use

NCJ Number
Howard Parker; Judith Aldridge; Fiona Measham
Date Published
185 pages
Based on a 5-year study of typical young people in Great Britain who grew up as the "chemical generation," this book explains how young people made decisions about whether to try drugs and how some became regular drug users.
A sample of over 700 young people aged 14 years was selected in 1991 and was tracked annually for up to 5 years. Each year, researchers inquired about personal and family circumstances, disposable income, leisure, and perspectives on personal and social relationships. The young people were asked in detail about their tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use. In total, researchers tracked 1,125 individuals for 1 or more years and coded and processed about 3,100 questionnaires. In-depth interviews were conducted with 86 respondents when they were 17 years of age. Four distinct drug pathways were identified in the course of analysis: current drug users, abstainers, individuals who experimented with drugs but did not intend to do so again, and individuals in transition. Drug users made clearly identifiable cost-benefit assessments about regular drug use. Committed abstainers held distinctive attitudes and expectations about drug use that protected them. Drug use was affected by drug availability, curiosity, and peer and friendship networks. Parental condemnation of their children's drug use was universal, and some young people experienced health risks and bad experiences associated with drug use. Implications of the findings for drug prevention and control are discussed. 156 references, 25 tables, and 7 figures