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Pike, Brigid (2005) Hyper and the search for respect. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 14, Summer 2005 , p. 4.

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The 10th issue of Hyper appeared in Spring 2005. Published by Soilse, the Health Service Executive’s Addiction and Rehabilitation and Training Centre, Hyper is produced largely by participants in the Soilse drug rehabilitation programme, i.e. young people aged between 18 and 25 years.

Since it first appeared in 1999,1 Hyper has carried information features, and also personal stories and poems by Soilse participants about their experiences with drugs and drug addiction. Respect – the means by which people attach a social value to other people, or have a social value attached to themselves – figures regularly in these contributors’ stories.2

In post-industrial societies respect is a valued commodity. In modern Ireland it has been identified as one of the four ‘foundational objectives’ to pursue if all members of Irish society are to enjoy equality.3 Contributors to the latest issue of Hyper reveal how complex the process of acquiring or losing respect can be.4

Contributor David describes how his desire for respect was a factor in his starting to use drugs at the age of 11 or 12: ‘My family was a mess and school was a joke. I was young with loads of potential but craved the wrong things. I wanted respect and hung around with the big boys on the corners, doing all the stuff they were into – robbing, mischief and taking drink and drugs.’ Another contributor, Daniel, delves further:

Most addicts would say they always felt apart from everything, that no matter what the circumstances were, they did not feel they fit in. … How does a person fill this void? We will look for excitement because in this we may feel we belong. We will see the drug scene as a group of people that in our eyes look as one, where everyone is loved, needed and wanted. This is where the drug culture holds its power. To someone who is looking for belonging, the drug culture is a community.

Daniel’s explanation echoes that given in Becker’s classic study of marijuana users in 1950s Chicago.5 The marijuana users gradually shifted their moral allegiance, and their search for respect, from the wider society to the drug-using network in which they found themselves accepted.

Becker also observed how drug users frequently attempted to cure themselves of their addiction and that the motivation was to show non-addicts, whose opinions they respected, that they were not as bad as they were thought to be. To their dismay, however, they found that people still viewed them as ‘junkies’, still stigmatised them, still disrespected them. Contributors to Hyper who are on methadone treatment describe a similar experience. For example:

Derek: ‘There’s a stigma with ignorant people. They don’t understand what methadone is. … They view it as drugs instead of stabilisation. You’re still viewed as a junkie. Alcohol is ok – if I switched – it’s socially acceptable. But methadone/phy – “oh, the guy’s on drugs”. I class them as ignorant people. I do it for myself. I don’t take the stigma on board.’

Stuart: There’s definitely a stigma though. You’re in the chemist, taking it there and there’s oul wans there with prescriptions and they look down on you. It does bother me. You get a certain look. People’d be whispering and looking.’

Denise: ‘There’s a stigma. I overhear people talk. It makes me feel like shit when I stand there listening. People don’t know I’m on it. I try to hide it.’

These accounts highlight the intersubjectivity of respect: it arises in the course of interactions between two or more persons. Derek, Stuart and Denise all experience a lack of respect from other persons, which affects their self-respect, which in turn influences their responses to the other persons (ignorant people, oul’ wans) and their behaviours, such as Denise concealing the fact that she is on methadone treatment.

The contributors to Hyper deserve congratulations for their courage in revealing their experiences of respect and self-respect so openly and frankly. They provide insights into a critical aspect of their relationships with other people. But it is only part of the story. If other actors in the area of illegal drugs – policy makers, researchers, the media, treatment professionals, law enforcers – were to give their side of the story, with equal candour, valuable insights into the individuals’ sense of identity and power, as well as the functioning of equality in such situations, would be obtained.  

1. The complete series of Hyper is available in hard copy in the National Documentation Centre on Drug Use.

2.  In 2004 Brigid Pike completed an MSocSc dissertation ‘Respect and self-respect in everyday life: A survey of theoretical and methodological approaches with special reference to illegal drug users as an example of a socially-excluded group’. The dissertation is available online in the National Documentation Centre.

3.  See National Economic and Social Forum (2002) A strategic policy framework for equality issues. Dublin: National Economic and Social Forum.

4. The experiences of respect described by drug users undergoing treatment or rehabilitation differ from those described in relation to other users at different stages of their drug-using ‘career’. Cf.  P Bourgois (2003) In search of respect: Crack dealers in Barrio. 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press; T Williams (1990) The cocaine kids. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; B Hanson et al. (1985) Life with heroin. Lexington MA: Lexington Books. Notwithstanding the differences, each perspective reveals a common set of principles governing the functioning of respect.

5.  H S Becker (1963) Outsiders. New York: The Free Press.

 

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