Learning Limits: College Women, Drugs, and Relationships

By Kimberly M. Williams | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
The Individualized Drug Acceptability Ranking

Drawing on experiences within their relationships, particularly friendships and romantic partnerships, women in this project constructed drugs in traditional ways using discourses of morality, legality, and health/safety. Women organized their constructions in a way that I labeled an "individualized drug acceptability ranking." This ranking, which seemed to be fairly consistent for many of the women in this study, typically began with what a woman considered the most morally acceptable, physically safe, and legal drugs and progressed downward to what she considered morally "bad," "hard-core," "dangerous," "addictive," and illegal drugs. (See Appendix C for the drug acceptability ranking composite.) For most women, these rankings were complex and shifting. A woman's personal drug acceptability ranking seemed to guide her decisions about what drugs were acceptable to use. Because no research on drugs has ever examined such an idea, I examined the literature for historical messages about drugs and their link to legality, morality, and health.

Public anxiety about drug use and abuse has waxed and waned throughout America's history. This anxiety has often resulted in attempts to create antidrug education and media campaigns preaching against drug use by constructing drug use as unhealthy, immoral, and un-American (and worthy of legal sanction)-- messages that have been frequently intermingled. However, various drugs have been socially constructed in different ways at different periods in history. Below I will elaborate on a few examples: the Women's Temperance movement and the social construction of alcohol as immoral; some major historical events around nicotine products (smoking, chewing, and snuff) focusing on the health risks; and drug legislation of the early twentieth century surrounding the now illicit drugs using moral, health, and racist beliefs to demonstrate that certain drugs were worthy of harsh legal sanction.

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