The Normalization of 'Sensible' Recreational Drug Use: Further Evidence from the North West England Longitudinal Study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Five key dimensions of normalization are identified: availability/access; drug trying rates; usage rates; accommodating attitudes to ‘sensible’ recreational drug use especially by non users; and degree of cultural accommodation of illegal drug use. A review of recent UK research is provided for each measure. The NW England Longitudinal Study continues to monitor normalization based on the recapture of 465 young adults (in year 2000) of a cohort previously surveyed/interviewed across their adolescence (1991 to 1995).The availability of drugs remains high with over 90% having been in drug offer situations. Accessibility is highest for cannabis, followed by ‘dance drugs’, with cocaine showing the steepest climb. Drug trying rates have risen incrementally from 36 percent at 14 to 76 percent at 22. At 18 over half reported past year drug use and at 22 the rate is unchanged (52 percent). Past month use at 32 percent has declined slightly. Males are now slightly more likely to be drug-involved on all measures. Socio-economic differences are not significant. Cannabis dominates recent usage (average three episodes a month). Half the abstainers have friends who have used cannabis. Nearly two thirds of abstainers held tolerant or approving attitudes of drug takers. Half held different views about different drugs, with cannabis use being most tolerated. The paper concludes that ‘sensible’ recreational drug use is becoming increasingly accommodated into the social lives of conventional young adults.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-964
Number of pages24
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2002