Visible Men, Yet Invisible as Men

9 Jun
Source: author

Source: author

When I first undertook my research into Irish men’s recreational use of illicit drugs, I knew that men were more likely to engage in illicit drug use than women. However, I hadn’t examined the literature in great depth at that time. Now having extensively researched the topic it is widely evidenced that men, the world over, are the predominant users of illicit drugs[1].

Like men elsewhere, Irish men are more likely to be binge drinkers[2] and users of illicit drugs than women[3]. Irish men are nearly twice as likely to use cannabis, ecstasy or cocaine[4]. Moreover, Irish men are more likely to experience problematic drug and alcohol use, and report difficulties in their lives as a result of their drug use. Irish men account for approximately 80% of those in drug treatment centres / services[5] and accounted for 72% of all drug related mortalities in Ireland during 2011[6].

However, there are notable changes in women’s use of illicit drugs and it appears that illicit drug use is increasing among women. Yet it is only within certain contexts or in relation to specific types of drug use where the gender gap between men and women is narrow. Examples of this can be found within certain subcultural groups, such as, the dance / rave scene[7]. Age is also significant in relation to this gender gap. The gap tends to be narrowest during late adolescence and early adulthood but does not extend beyond this[8].

Most of what is known about illicit drug use in Ireland relates to the availability of certain drugs and general patterns of drug use.  Health impacts and social consequences of drug use have also been widely researched. There are obviously a multitude of reasons why people engage in drug use. However, often the pleasurability of the drug experience is ignored. People commonly take drugs because they enjoy how it makes them feel, yet policy makers take the perspective that there is something deficient or wrong with drug users. Many common preconceptions about drug users are untrue. Drug use transcends social class[9]. Although there is a correlation between problematic drug use and social deprivation[10], recreational illicit drug use tends to occur more commonly among affluent populations[11]. In fact in Ireland, cannabis use is most common among those in professional / managerial positions[12].

Despite the glaringly obvious fact that men dominate in the use of illicit drugs, in Ireland (and many other places) there has been no research into male illicit drug users as men.  Men are most visibly represented in drug statistics, yet this dominance has resulted in their invisibility as men.  There is a significant lack of understanding as to why men are the predominant users of illicit drugs in Ireland, and elsewhere.  What meanings do men attach to their recreational use of illicit drugs?  Do illicit drugs fulfil functions other than pleasurability etc?

I want to begin to try and answer these types of questions.  My research seeks to examine young men’s experiences of recreational illicit drug use,  and how their drug use contributes to their production or maintenance of specific masculinities.  In essence I want to uncover what their drug use means to them as men.   My first challenge is finding young men who will take part in the research.

Let’s hope they don’t prove to be invisible to me!


[1] UNODC, 2012

[2]Morgan et al, 2009; WHO, 2014

[3] IFP, 2013

[4] IFP, 2013

[5] EMCDDA, 2013

[6] HRB, 2014

[7] Duff, 2005

[8] Fletcher et al, 2010

[9] Plant & Plant, 1992; Munchie, 1999

[10] Pearson, 1987; Bourgois, 1998; Measham & South, 2012; Coomber et al, 2013

[11] EMCDDA, 2002

[12]IFP, 2013



Bourgois, P. (1998) ‘Just Another Night in a Shooting Gallery’, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 15, (2), pp. 37-66.

Coomber, R., McElrath, K., Measham, F. and Moore, K. (2013) Key Concepts in Drugs and Society, London: Sage Publications.

Duff, C. (2005) ‘Party drugs and party people: examining the ‘normalization’ of recreational drug use in Melbourne, Australia’, International Journal of Drug Policy, Vol. 16, 2005, pp. 161-170.

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) (2002) Drugs in Focus: Recreational drug use – a key EU challenge (Briefing 6), Lisbon: EMCDDA.

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) (2013) European Drug Report Trends and Developments 2013, Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Fletcher, A., Calafat, A., Pirona, A. and Olszewski, D (2010) ‘Young people, recreational drug use and harm reduction’, in European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) Harm Reduction: evidence, impacts and challenges, (pp. 357-378), Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Irish Focal Point (IFP) (2013) 2012 National Report (2012 Data) to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, Ireland: new developments, trends and in-depth information on selected issues, Dublin: Health Research Board.

Health Research Board (HRB) (2014) Drug-related deaths and deaths among drug users in Ireland: 2011 figures from the National Drug-Related Deaths Index, Dublin: Health Research Board.

Measham, F. and South, N. (2012) Drugs, Alcohol and Crime, In: Maguire, M., Morgan, R. and Reiner, R. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (5th Edition), United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Morgan, K., McGee, H., Dicker, P., Brugha, R., Ward, M., Shelley, E., Van Lente, E., Harrington, J., Barry, M., Perry, I. and Watson, D. (2009) SLÁN 2007: Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition in Ireland – Alcohol use in Ireland: A profile of drinking patterns and alcohol-related harm from SLÁN 2007, Department of Health and Children, Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Munchie, J. (1999) Youth and Crime – A Critical Introduction, London: Sage Publications.

Pearson, G. (1987) Social deprivation, unemployment and patterns of heroin use, In: Dorn, N., and South, N. (1987)(Eds.) A Land fit for heroin?: drug policies, prevention and practice, Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

Plant, M. and Plant, M. (1992) Risk Takers: Alcohol, drugs, sex and youth, London and New York: Routledge.

WHO (2014) Global status report on alcohol and health 2014, Luxemburg: World Health Organisation.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2012) World Drug Report, New York: United Nations.



This blog featured on on 05/21/2014.


Clay is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin, School of Sociology.

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