Modulation of Drug Use in Southern Farming Communities: Social Origins of Poly-Use
Bletzer, Keith V., Human Organization
Popular images of users who are overly fond of a "drug of choice" are belied by the experience of those who seek or become aware of varied effects from multiple forms of use. Based on fieldwork and ethnographic interviews, this article discusses poly-use by men and women who sequentially use new lifetime drugs; temporarily replace drugs over seasonal agricultural cycles that inhibit a schedule of regular use; pace use by days of the week; and/or mix drugs prior to and/or during a drug session. User narratives from farming communities of the southern United States highlight a poly-use discourse that accentuates knowledge of bodily effects that move beyond that of a mono-drug high. This individualization of self-experience is compelled by seasonal cycles of irregular and uncertain employment, residential dislocation, and strenuous physical labor, which often result in voluntary discontinuation, adjusted practices, and new routes of administration. For some, periodic incarceration results in forced cessation. This range of variability in patterns of using drugs and consuming alcohol reflects constrained and contained responses to demands on physical capacity. These responses reflect creative poly-use that iteratively builds toward a lifetime repertoire that buffers the hardships of demanding labor routines.
Key words: drug and alcohol use, social origins of poly-use, agricultural labor, southern United States
I start with Valium. ..then I drink some alcohol, followed by a little acid, and I wait an hour before smoking a joint.... That's the best combination.
The popular image of the addict, as overly fond of a single drug of choice, is challenged by the experience of those who use multiple drugs. Over time, these poly-users construct a repertoire of use by learning which drugs and/or administration routes best serve them. What they learn from the choices they make in relation both to their personal use and their interactions with a range of individuals is the focus of this article. How users view reasons for poly-use centers on what they expect from what they use (Boys et al. 1999a) and what works to fulfill that expectation on given occasions (Boys et al. 1999b; Lende et al. 2007). This view differs from much of the available urban-generated drug research, where control by habitués is considered lacking (e.g., Rosenbaum 1981; Washton and Gold 1987), and the use of heroin and cocaine, as hard drug prototypes, is viewed as recreational (e.g., Pearson 1987) or an imbued lifestyle (e.g., Stephens 1991). Within this theoretical framework, use of drugs and alcohol in adolescence is viewed as a deterrent to school performance (e.g., Bachman et al. 2003), obstacle to stable employment (Booth and Feng 2002) at a good job (e.g., Kandel, Chen, and Gill 1995; Ringel, Ellickson, and Collins 2007), and consequence and predictor of employment difficulty (e.g., Gailaif, Newcomb, and Carmona 2001; Slaymaker and Owen 2006).
Taking a strong view of drugs/alcohol as irascibly holding users to escalating and continuing trajectories of consumption, this body of literature is focused on drug use fixed in urban space. It is assumed the only path out from this use is intervention. What is most criticized about this position is supposition of non-existent agency or lack of control by individual users. After the ground-breaking study of controlled use by Zinberg (1984) that found restraint (binge avoidance) and moderation in drug use across various using populations, and later research of less known groups such as middle-class women who carefully control personal cocaine use (Sterk-Elifson 1996) or heroin users whose shifting roles inhibit maturing out (Boeri 2004), the emerging views of drug use emphasize flexibility and variation as commonplace occurrences. Correctives to the strong view of inevitable consequences have proposed that most drug use is intermittent and rarely reaches a compulsory level. …