Course Title: The Sociology of Drug Use

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: The Sociology of Drug Use

Credit Points: 12

Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


330H Social Science & Planning


Sem 2 2006


City Campus


365H Global, Urban & Social Studies


Sem 2 2007,
Sem 2 2008,
Sem 2 2009,
Sem 2 2010,
Sem 2 2011,
Sem 2 2012,
Sem 2 2014,
Sem 2 2015

Course Coordinator: Dr James Rowe

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 9925 2319

Course Coordinator

Course Coordinator Location: 37.2.8

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities


Course Description

Illicit drug use is a major issue in Australia. Over the last decade, policy makers have addressed proposals to legalise marijuana, prescribe heroin and establish supervised injecting rooms. In the mid-to-late 1990s, Australia witnessed an unprecedented increase in the availability and impact of heroin. More recently, a shortage of heroin has seen a corresponding rise in methamphetamine use. The nature of illicit drug use is ever-changing, constantly evolving, in response to law enforcement initiatives, events on the international stage and the discoveries of backyard chemists.

Meanwhile, the cultural ‘construction’ of illicit drugs and those who use them is a mass of contradiction. Media reports about the ‘evil’ of heroin and ‘pathetic’ junkies are consumed as greedily as ‘designer’ drugs by the upwardly mobile. From hysteria in the mass media to ‘mainlining’ with style in Pulp Fiction, mixed messages predominate in cultural representations. Nonetheless, illicit drugs are subject to a fearsome reputation that far outweighs their pharmacological properties. This is not to suggest that illicit drug use is harmless. However, tobacco and alcohol have a far greater impact than that of all the illicit drugs combined, an illustration of the fact that the prohibition of certain drugs has rarely been based on subjective consideration of the dangers associated with different drugs.

This course has been designed to explore the place of illicit drugs in Australia by drawing on sociological, historical, policy and cultural perspectives. Contemporary issues are used to illustrate how these perspectives intersect to influence responses to illicit drugs. Key topics include: the history of international and domestic drug policy; cultural representations of drugs, and the demythologising of illicit drug users.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

At the conclusion of the course, you will:

  • Conceptualise and discuss illicit drug debates in a formal setting;
  • Describe the historical basis of Australian drug policy;
  • Critically assess the formulation of illicit drug policy; and,
  • Demonstrate a beginning-level understanding of the role that ‘representations’ and cultural ‘constructions’ play in our understanding of illicit drugs.

Overview of Learning Activities

Classes will be a combination of lectures and activity-based workshops. The course will be based on research, discussion, instruction and learning-based activity. The resulting capabilities will be applied to a range of scenarios and drug-related issues likely to raise debate in the broader community.

Overview of Learning Resources

You will be able to use a prescribed text.

Overview of Assessment

You will be able to prepare assessment tasks with a total word length or equivalent of 4,000 words.