Through a consideration of quantitative and qualitative data obtained from young women aged 18-28 in the later years of the North West England Longitudinal Study, this paper explores how women's drug careers develop, progressing the authors' normalisation thesis of 'recreational' drug use from adolescence into adulthood. Longitudinal studies are here compared with repeated cross-sectional surveys more usually favoured and funded by governments. The authors argue that firstly, in relation to methodology, longitudinal studies provide a unique opportunity to elucidate how drug careers develop across the life course and to chart the various impacts of life events and transitions on these careers and vice versa. Secondly, through this exploration of gender differences in drug careers and life transitions, we develop an age and gender-sensitive understanding of how recreational drug use fits into women's adult lives. The paper concludes that the challenge for policy makers is how to address adult women's 'normalised' recreational drug use, in the face of a regime focused on educational provision aimed at adolescent prevention; public health information designed for teenagers; and treatment resources focused on predominantly male and non parenting problem drug users, and the links between addiction and acquisitive crime. © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.