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Anthropology and addiction: an historical review

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Aims  This paper reviews the world anthropology of drugs and alcohol use literature, identifying key issues addressed by anthropologists, methods and theoretical models in use, trends in focus over time and future directions.

Methods  Papers and books that comprise the literature were identified through computer search using the keywords: ethnography of drug use (and variants, e.g. drug ethnography, qualitative approaches in drug research), ethnography of drinking, anthropology and drug use, and anthropology and drinking. Search engines included Google Scholar, EBSCOHost, AnthroSource and PubMed. Identified sources were read and integrated into the review.

Results and Conclusions  The literature search identified a rich and growing literature on the anthropology of drinking and drug use. The research and published literature on the anthropology of drug use has grown and diversified since the 1970s, found acceptance in the wider multi‐disciplinary domain of alcohol and drug studies and developed beyond the socio‐cultural model to include life‐style, critical medical anthropology and experiential explanatory models. Anthropological research has helped to shape the field of addiction science, e.g. ethnographic studies show that the lived worlds and self‐identities of drug users have cultural order and socially constructed purpose and meaning, and experiential research shows that some addictions or aspects of addictions can be affirmative, creative and sustainable, at least at the individual level. The human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome pandemic has significantly increased anthropological research on drug‐related issues world‐wide.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA

Publication date: 2012-10-01

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