Course Title: The Sociology of Drug Use

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: The Sociology of Drug Use

Credit Points: 12.00


Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


330H Social Science & Planning


Sem 2 2006


City Campus


365H Global, Urban and 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,
Sem 2 2018,
Sem 2 2020

Course Coordinator: Dr James Rowe

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 9925 2319

Course Coordinator Email:

Course Coordinator Location: 37.4.18

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, the spread of methamphetamine (or ‘ice’) use has dominated headlines. The underground nature of illicit drug use is ever-changing as those who seek to profit from the continued demand for criminalised substances adapt to law enforcement initiatives, as well as 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 with the same enthusiasm as drugs are consumed by the upwardly mobile. From hysteria in the mass media to the stylish drug users who have populated popular films such as Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting, 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 on the numbers of Australian mortality and morbidity rates than all the illicit drugs combined. This is a useful illustration of the fact that the prohibition of certain drugs has rarely been due to a 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 historical development of Australian drug policy; cultural representations of drugs, the rationale and consequences of current prohibitive approaches to drug use and the stereotyping of illicit drug users

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

At the conclusion of the course, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a beginning-level understanding of the nature of illicit drug use in contemporary Australian society;
  • Conceptualise and discuss illicit drug debates in a formal setting;
  • Describe and critically assess the historical basis of Australian drug policy;
  • Critically reflect on a range of different approaches to drug policy, including the principle of harm reduction and its position on a continuum that includes the sharply contrasting positions of legalisation and ‘zero tolerance’;
  • Appreciate the widespread use of illegal drugs within Australia; and consequently,
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how popular ‘representations’ and cultural ‘constructions’ skew our perception of illegal drugs and those who use them.

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

Recommended reading

Hari, J. 2015, Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the war on drugs Bloomsbury Circus



Further References

Valentish,, J. 2017, Women of Substance: A Journey into Addiction & Treatment (Black Inc.)


Fraser, S., Moore, D., (eds.) 2011, The Drug Effect: health, crime and society Cambridge University Press


Alexander, B.K., 2008, The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit Oxford University Press

Sullum, J. 2004, Saying Yes: In defence of drug use Tarcher

Manderson, D. 1994, From Mr Sin to Mr Big: A History of Australian Drug Laws Oxford University Press

McCoy, A. 1985, Drug Traffic: Narcotic and Organised Crime in Australia Harper & Row


Overview of Assessment



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