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Unit information: Drugs and Society in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Drugs and Society
Unit code SPOL21011
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Lart
Open unit status Open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The unit examines the ways in which societies respond to psychoactive substance use, distinguishing between categories of substance and creating systems of control. A strong policy focus will trace the development of British drugs policy over the last century, locate this within the context of international drug control policies and examine selected other societies' responses and policies. Issues particularly relating to research in the drugs field will also be addressed. The unit aims to:

  1. provide students with a broad social, historical and theoretical framework for understanding drug use
  2. enable students to understand and critically assess the range of social responses to drug use
  3. show students the significance of drug use for contemporary social policy.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • describe and analyse how illicit drug use has been defined and responded to in British society and in selected other societies
  • use a range of social theory to analyse policy responses to drug use
  • describe and critically assess the range of research methods used in the drugs field
  • critically assess arguments about the legalisation, decriminalisation and prohibition of drug use

Teaching details

The unit is taught by a series of 12 lectures, followed each week by a class. The classes involve a mixture of student presentations of literature and exercises.

Assessment Details

Assessment will be against the programme criteria defined for the appropriate level.

Formative assessment: One 2000- 2500 word essay

Summative assessment: Level I - 3 000 word essay

Reading and References

  • Berridge, V (2013) Demons: Our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco and drugs Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Seddon, T (2010) A history of drugs: drugs and freedom in the liberal age London: Routledge
  • Stevens, A (2011) Drugs, Crime and Public Health London: Routledge
  • Herring, J., Regan, C., Weinberg, D and Withington, P (eds) (2013) Intoxication and Society London: Palgrave MacMillan
  • Hunt, G., Milhet, M and Bergeron, H (2011) Drugs and culture: Knowledge, consumption and policy Farnham: Ashgate
  • Bewlay-Taylor, D. R. (2012) International Drug Control: Consensus Fractured Cambridge: Cambridge University Press