Fifteen: The criminalisation of intoxication

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At the heart of British drug policy lies a prohibitionist stance that prioritises the relationship between drugs and crime, resulting in both increased medicalisation based on outdated notions of addiction and compulsion, and increased criminalisation dominated by ‘war on drugs’ and ‘law and order’ discourses. This chapter looks at a new wave of proactive prohibition of pharmacological intoxication, bolstering an enduring ‘official’ ambivalence to leisure, pleasure and intoxication. It considers four aspects of this new wave of criminalisation: first, the extension of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act to criminalise emergent drugs used for recreational purposes; second, changes to the burden of proof regarding drug supply offences; third, the increased regulation of young-adult drunkenness and drink-related disorder; and, fourth, the continued rejection by the British government of repeated calls to overhaul the drug classification system. The chapter argues that young people’s involvement in vibrant and diverse local leisure ‘scenes’ provides the target for a new wave of stigmatisation and criminalisation of contemporary cultures of intoxication, at odds with official policy supporting the expansion of the night-time economy.

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