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Accepted Paper:

Paradoxes and possibilities: exploring notions of agency, autonomy and responsibility for substance users in Scotland   
Laura Roe (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines ambiguous notions of agency, autonomy and responsibility in addiction discourse, and explores their enactment and contestation by drug users. It similarly highlights the agential possibilities that exist in novel experimentation with methods of use, dose and drug combination.

Paper long abstract:

Although much contemporary addiction discourse posits substance addiction as a chronic condition, subject to inevitable relapse, there remains paradoxical expectations of recovery as achievable through willpower and devotion. As such, while predominant, medically informed conceptualisations of addiction might contest stigmatising narratives in many ways, they remain laden with moral aspersions about culpability, choice and compulsion. Drawing on twelve months of fieldwork with heroin and poly-substance users in an East coast county of Scotland, this paper aims to excavate ambiguous notions of responsibility and agency that permeate lived experiences of substance use. The paper traces both the tensions inherent in medical, judicial and state approaches to addiction and the ways in which these tensions are enacted and troubled by substance users. Interlocutors during the research, for example, described states of drug use and recovery becoming entangled, as abstinence was continually pursued and yet forever faltering. In trying to reconcile persistent drug use with the possibilities of recovery espoused by recovery services, notions of agency, autonomy and inevitability were continually negotiated. Agency was similarly attributed to substances by users; their use often given as a surrender, or a giving over of one’s self and body to an overwhelming force. The paper also explores, however, in contrast to notions of surrender, those forms of agency often overlooked in addiction discourse; that which exists in active and highly novel experimentation with drug taking. The paper, overall, explores agency and responsibility as molten and shifting, even as they remain suspended in moralising discourse.

Panel Heal06
Psychoactive agents: drugs, morality and responsibility
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -