The proliferation of popular interest in illegal drug use by older adults marks a sea change in attitudes, for, as recently as the turn of the century, illegal drug use was generally held to be a phenomenon of youth, and the possibility that older users existed was barely even considered. Within the academy, the consensus was perhaps best expressed by Winick’s ‘maturation hypothesis’ (1962), which famously suggested that users ‘mature out’ of drug use during their thirties. This idea became something of a received wisdom and contributed to a dearth of research on older users relative to their younger counterparts. However, over recent years, a body of research evidence has steadily accrued suggesting that older illegal drug users do in fact exist and are increasing in number
(Stephens 1991, Anderson and Levy 2003, Sullum 2003, Notley 2005, Waters 2009, Hathaway et al. 2010, Fahmy et al. 2012, Askew 2013). Furthermore, in 2015, the UK government’s annual report into ‘drug misuse’ based upon the fi ndings of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) included for the fi rst time an annex on ‘older drug users’ (Home Offi ce 2015a: 27). 1
Yet it is not only the existence of older users that is fi nally being acknowledged. There has also been a creeping acceptance of the idea that illegal drug use can form a routine component of a ‘conventional’ everyday life (Plant 1975, Hathaway 1997a, 1997b, Pearson 2001, Hammersley 2011). This is so-called ‘normal’ drug use (Hammersley 2005, 2011) is integrated more or less sustainably into otherwise largely orthodox lifestyles and tolerated or simply ignored by others. Whilst ‘the existence of normal patterns of drug use that do not verge upon or develop into the pathological remains questionable, even offensive, to many people’ (Hammersley 2005: 201), the evidence that long-term users of illegal drugs can function perfectly happily as, for want of a better term, ‘mainstream citizens’ (Cohen and Sas 1994: 72) is increasingly providing a stark contrast to the decades-old ‘junkie’ stereotype that still often dominates popular discourse around drug users.