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Young people’s drinking and recreational drug use in the night-time economy in the United Kingdom and Denmark


Why do young Danish and British adolescents drink more than their European peers, and why is it that these two countries also have the highest numbers of young recreational drug users, in particular users of cannabis? What are the similarities and differences between young people in Denmark and the UK and their route to legal and illegal drug use? These questions will be examined in an international research project carried out in collaboration with leading criminologists at Lancaster University.

Danish and British 15-16-year-old adolescents drink more frequently and more intensively than adolescents in other countries according to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs. Similarly, young adults in Denmark share with their British peers the highest experimental illegal drug use in Europe. According to the Eurobarometer, which compares16-24 year olds in all European countries, more young people in Denmark (41%) and the UK (37%) report they have smoked cannabis and likewise we find the highest number of young people in DK (10%) and the UK (12%) who have tried hard drugs such as amphetamine and cocaine.

Therefore, a new international research project and post.doc, conducted in collaboration with leading UK criminologists Fiona Measham, senior lecturer and Karenza Moore, lecturer at Lancaster University, will examine the similarities and differences in young people’s drinking and recreational drug use in these two European countries, renowned for high alcohol consumption and experimental illegal drug use. Read more here »

The aim of the project is to explore emergent trends in alcohol and drug use and their consequences; the relationship between consumption and context; and key patterns of drinking and drug use, including polydrug use. A hey risk indicator is mixing of alcohol and drugs, as a recent Danish study and book, ‘Drugs and Nightlife’ (Stoffer og Natteliv), which investigates recreational drinking and drug use among Danish 17-19 year olds and Danish clubbers, has revealed that alcohol is key factor in understanding how young people move on to recreational drug use.

The theory behind, this new international research project and post.doc was first put forward by the sociologists Chatterton and Hollands. It involves the sociological framework known as ‘the night-time economy (NTE)’, which encompasses the link between crime, leisure and consumption, and how young people in particular have become growing consumers of nightlife. The research project will engage with the following three interlinked theoretical debates.

The first issue is on the changing nature of contemporary recreational drug use, also debated in Fiona Measham’s recent co-authored book entitled ‘Illegal Leisure Revisited’, which discusses how patterns and prevalence of drug use have changed from being exceptional to becoming an ordinary feature of young people’s contemporary everyday life – i.e. normalised. The project will explore how normalisation may be differentiated through 21st century patterns and profiles of consumption, taking forward the structure/agency/culture debates which Fiona Measham has been developing since her early work.

Secondly, gender will be a key analytical focus area for the study, exploring for both men and women how gender identities influence the development of drinking, drug use (i.e. gendered normalisation) and associated leisure patterns within the context of a possible ‘fourth wave’ of feminist ideas.

Thirdly, the project will further develop the study by Fiona Measham and Karenza Moore of drug use in Manchester clubs, linking the subcultures, neo-tribes and scenes debate with the body of research on alcohol and the night-time economy. This will link substance use with context, allowing for the contextualisation of young people’s drinking in recent urban regeneration, current leisure trends, and changes in licensing rules and other legislation.

One important aim of the research project is to develop theoretically-informed, standardised quantitative and qualitative research designs which can explore young people’s drug pathways in a robust cross-national manner. A special interest and focus is to develop innovative new cross-national survey methods for measuring to make it possible to compare young people’s drug use internationally. Several international articles and reports (see for instance the latest report from The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) point out that general population surveys seldom draw on an internationally-standardised methodology and they often suffer from disproportionate non-response rates from young people, drinkers and drug users. As a vital complementary method to general population surveys, this international research project and post.doc will develop and use so called in situ night-time economy surveys (NTE surveys).

In situ NTE surveys evolved out of the rave and club research first developed by Fiona Measham in her book ‘Dancing on Drugs’ and later refined with Karenza Moore in their study of Manchester club life. Such research is conducted at or near the entrance to bars, clubs or leisure venues, and includes surveys, interviews, ethnographic observations, medical assessments and virtual methodologies. Brief, targeted and heavily piloted key questions regarding drinking, smoking, drug prevalence, socio-demographic characteristics and other theme-specific questions, such as critical health or policing incidents, are posed to customers at or near carefully selected leisure venues. This is preceded by internet postings on key websites and careful negotiations with a range of stakeholders and leisure customers to highlight the research aims, ethical issues and ensure informed consent. NTE surveys will be conducted in four cities and towns of varying size in the UK and Denmark. Furthermore this international research project and post doc will apply a research strategy of mixed methods, combining survey results (i.e. general population surveys, club surveys and NTE surveys) and focus-group interviews with young people in both DK and the UK.

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