Home > Women speak about their drug-related problems.

Pike, Brigid (2009) Women speak about their drug-related problems. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 30, Summer 2009, pp. 18-19.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 30) - Published Version

To mark International Women's Day (8 March), the EMCDDA published a collection of narratives from women facing drug-related problems.1 While it is estimated that, in Europe,  around one in four drug users entering treatment is female and women account for one in five drug-related deaths, most drug services in Europe are designed with male drug users in mind. The EMCDDA's new thematic paper presents quotations gleaned from interviews conducted between 2000 and 2008 with women in eight EU member states. They illustrate how qualitative research can yield insights into the experiences and perceptions of women facing drug issues that statistics alone cannot provide and that can help in designing services that better meet the needs of a sizeable proportion of clients.

 The thematic paper identifies five key issues.
1. The confusion and desperation that mothers experience when their own children develop drug problems.
2. The deprivation and abuse that characterise the lives of many women who develop drug problems.
3. The difficulties faced by drug-using women who attempt to fulfil societal roles as mothers and provide the sort of childcare they and 'society' wish for children.
4. The plight of women drug users in prison - the most vulnerable of all women.
5. Stigma, policies and practices that make it difficult for women to access treatment.
 In a previous EMCDDA report, which undertook a gender-based analysis of quantitative data on drug use and responses to drug problems in EU member states, it was concluded that 'policymakers, professionals and scientists must always take gender into consideration in the planning of research, analysis, interventions and policy in the drugs field.'2 Using qualitative data, this new thematic paper spells out just how interventions for female drug users might be tailored:
 ... there is a need for holistic interventions for female drug users. ... the overarching theme illustrated by the quotations is about the struggle that female drug users face in fulfilling their social roles. Some of their quotations are invocations for improved services to alleviate their drug problems and provide them with necessary social support but it is important to recognise that other quotations are invocations for finding ways to reduce the stigma imposed on them and recognising their achievements in controlling their drug use and fulfilling their social roles. (p. 18)
 The EMCDDA did not use Irish sources in compiling this thematic paper. However, a number of studies of the drug problem in Ireland have included qualitative data on Irish women's experiences and perceptions of their drug-related problems. The authors of these studies have highlighted their potential to inform policy decisions. A selection of these studies is listed below.
Recent studies containing qualitative data on the
experiences and perceptions of Irish women facing drug-related problems3
  • Comiskey CM, O'Sullivan K and Cronly J (2006) Hazardous journeys to better places: positive outcomes and negative risks associated with the care pathway before, during and after an admittance to the Dóchas Centre, Mountjoy Women's Prison, Dublin, Ireland. Dublin: Health Service Executive.
  • Coveney E, Murphy-Lawless J, Redmond D and Sheridan S (1999) Prevalence, profiles and policy: a case study of drug use in north inner city Dublin. Dublin: North Inner City Drugs Task Force. (Includes an extended case study interview with a 26-year-old recovering female addict.)
  • Hunter P (2004) An investigation into the lifestyle, risk behaviours and health care needs of street-based female prostitutes in Belfast, Northern Ireland. PhD Thesis, University of Ulster.
  • Lawless K and Wayne A (2005) The Next Step Initiative: research report on barriers affecting women in prostitution. Dublin: Ruhama.
  • Lawless M (2003) Private lives - public issues: an investigation into the health status of female drug users. In Pieces of the jigsaw: six reports addressing homelessness and drug use in Ireland. Dublin: Merchants Quay Ireland.
  • Murphy-Lawless J (2002) Fighting back: women and the impact of drug abuse on families and communities. Dublin: Liffey Press.
  • O'Kelly EM (2005) Study on the perceptions of female drug users in relation to the consequences of parental substance abuse on the children of the substance misusers. MSc Thesis, Dublin City University.
  • Woods M (1999) Women, drug use and parenting in Dublin: the views of professional workers in the drug treatment and social work fields. Paper presented at 10th annual European Society for the Study of Drug Use (ESSD) Conference on Drug Use and Drug Policy in Europe, held in Vienna in September 1999.
1. EMCDDA (2009) Women's voices: experiences and perceptions of women who face drug-related problems in Europe. Thematic paper. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
2. EMCDDA (2006) A gender perspective on drug use and responding to drug problems. Selected issue. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Ireland's input to this selected issue is contained in the 2005 Annual Report to the EMCDDA, which may be accessed at https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/  (Drugs in Ireland page).
3. This selection is taken from the electronic database administered by the National Documentation Centre on Drug Use (NDC) at https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/. On 23 March 2009, a search of the database was undertaken, using the keyword 'women'; 121 items were retrieved, 96 of which were general reviews, research reports and policy documents relating to substance misuse, including alcohol and tobacco, in Ireland. The majority of the research reports described quantitative studies of, for example, the epidemiology of female problem drug use, risk behaviours, infectious diseases, homelessness and comorbidity among cohorts of female drug users, and the effects of drug use on pregnancy. Among the small number of reports containing qualitative data, a selection of those published in the last 10 years is listed here. For a survey of earlier Irish research studies, including qualitative studies, see E Farrell (2001) Women, children and drug use. In R Moran et al. A collection of papers on drugs issues in Ireland. Dublin: Health Research Board.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Page Range
pp. 18-19
Health Research Board
Issue 30, Summer 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

Repository Staff Only: item control page