Laura Roe

Dr Laura Roe is a social researcher within the Scottish Government. She recently finished an ESRC-funded fellowship that explored experiences of time, memory and landscape in the context of substance use, which culminated in an exhibition titled ‘The Pit and the Kit: Addiction, Heroin, and the End of Coalmining in Scotland.’ She is currently working on a STAIRS-funded research project that explores the relationship between drug use, industrial history, and energy transition.

The impact of deindustrialisation on experiences of poly-drug use in Scotland: An ethnographic perspective

The research aims to explore the impact of deindustrialisation on contemporary patterns and experiences of poly-drug use in Scotland. It investigates how profound shifts in industry have altered relations to place, landscape, and community heritage, and in turn how these factors come to bear on people’s relationships with drugs and recovery. It further asks how an understanding of social and historical contexts, patterns, and experiences of drug use can aid in navigating future directions of drug policy and practice.

The study employed a range of ethnographic methods, including participant observation and semi-structured/unstructured interviews. Sixteen people who either actively use drugs or who identify as being in recovery were interviewed, including six women and ten men. The research was designed to capture lived experiences, personal life histories, and perspectives on social history.

Industrial history continues to have diffuse impacts on drug-using communities in Scotland. Deindustrialisation was cited by interviewees as exacerbating deprivation; disrupting senses of community and place; and leading to heightened feelings of isolation, dislocation, and hopelessness for the future. Interviewees also raised experiences of time, stigma, and interpersonal relationships as defining factors in their drug use. Multiple complex factors therefore shape contemporary experiences of drug use.

Approaches to addiction must account for the interlocking social, medical, and historical factors that underpin chronic drug use, and the complex experiences of people who use drugs. Viewing drug use through the lens of industry transition offers novel opportunities to broaden the social and cultural understandings of drug use.
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