Dissertation Abstracts

Drug abuse and life change: A study of social drug rehabilitation programs for people with substance abuse in the context of life course processes

Author: Bjørnar Blaalid, bjornar.blaalid@nord.no
Department: Faculty of Social Science
University: Nord University, Norway
Supervisor: Trude Gjernes
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: Norwegian

Keywords: Drug abuse , Social Interaction , Life Course , Social Deviance
Areas of Research: Youth , Deviance and Social Control , Biography and Society


My doctoral thesis is framed as a case study exploring the social lives and everyday struggles of drug users as they participate in rehabilitation programs and activities, carried out by a local humanitarian organization. This project is a part of my Ph.D. in sociology, and the aim is to study recovering drug users in Norway and their struggle to move on with their lives. I explore how participating in drug-intervention activities, like street-soccer and job training can help the drug users recover from with, strengthen non-addict identities, better their mental and physical health and quality of life. Two overarching research questions have guided the process: 1) How do people involved in drug rehabilitation describe and reflect on their ways into drugs and their struggle to move on with their lives? 2) How and why can participation in social drug rehabilitation programs help people with drug addiction to brake with drug environments and become interested in something other than drugs? Theoretical perspectives: This study follow in the footsteps of the second "Chicaco School" of sociology. It is a qualitative "bottom-up" case study on drug abuse in an life course perspective. My theoretical framework comprises interactionistic views, with social and symbolic interactionism being the main inspirations. In addition, grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and the life course perspective of Glen Elder Jr have been important in developing my ideas for this project. Methods: Through an ethnographic approach, I have spent time in various social programs aimed at drug rehabilitation. The programs are managed by a non-profit organization ("The Church City Mission"). To collect data on the drug users, I have made use of participating observations and biographical interviews, to produce thick descriptions on drug users as they transition to a more drug-free lifestyle. The study makes use of a life-course perspective, focusing on the drug user’s own experiences and narratives on drug abuse and how activities, like street-soccer and job training, over time might develop processes of social inclusion, enabling the drug users to become re-integrated in society. Preliminary findings: Recovering from drug addiction is a complex issue, with the risk of drug relapse being a constant threat. Data analysis indicate that activities like street-soccer and job training over time promotes processes of social inclusion. Three aspects have been recognised as particularly important by the drug users engaged in the Street-Soccer Football program. Firstly, the importance of having an predictable environment to do regular exercise, promoting physical health. Secondly, developing and learning sporting skills. Thirdly, the ability to interact and connect with ‘like-minded’ people in an safe environment, develop friendships and acquire new networks. Time on the soccer pitch provides important respite from everyday life and a chance to interact with like-minded individuals. The conclusion is that participating in street-soccer can bridge the gap between drug users and society, by giving the drug users access to social recourses and networks, allowing them to gain confidence in themselves, trust in other people and approval from society.