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Unit information: Drugs and Society in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Drugs and Society
Unit code SPOL21011
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Lart
Open unit status Not 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

Critical reading (1000 words) (25%)

2 hour exam (75%)

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