This article discusses the development of the normalization thesis in respect of monitoring sustained increases in young Britons' consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol over the past decade. It describes five dimensions of normalization which have been applied in a cluster of studies undertaken by the author, highlighting results from the N.W. England Longitudinal Study showing easy accessibility, high rates of drug trying (76% at 22 years) and long-term recreational drugs careers involving both alcohol and illicit drugs. The social accommodation of 'sensible' substance use was apparent amongst most drug abstainers in the cohort who routinely had close friends who used drugs 'recreationally'. Further cultural acceptance of recreational drug use is described. A sixth dimension - state or government responses to widespread recreational drug use - is introduced and illustrated. The article concludes by emphasizing the negative outcomes associated with recreational poly substance use in terms of personal and public health highlighting the 'slippage' from recreational to problem drug use as a growing phenomenon. It calls for a more integrative national strategy to address negative aspects of normalization. © 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd.