Mixing drink and drugs:‘Underclass’ politics, the recovery agenda and the partial convergence of English alcohol and drugs policy

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Alcohol policy and illicit drugs policy are typically presented as separate and different in academic discussion. This is understandable, to a degree, as the criminal law upholds a ‘great regulatory divide’ (Seddon, 2010: 56) separating the licit trade in alcohol from the illicit trade in substances classified as either class A, B or C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This paper takes a different stance. In doing so, it draws upon Berridge's (2013) argument that policies governing various psychoactive substances have been converging since the mid-twentieth century and seeks to elaborate it using recent developments relating to the control and regulation of drugs and alcohol in the broader areas of criminal justice and welfare reform. Significantly, the article examines how recent policy directions relating to both drugs and alcohol in England have, under the aegis of the ‘recovery agenda’, been connected to a broader behavioural politics oriented towards the actions and lifestyles of an apparently problematic subgroup of the population or ‘underclass’. The paper thus concludes that, although the great regulatory divide remains intact, an underclass politics is contributing towards the greater alignment of illicit drugs and alcohol policies, especially in regards to the respective significance of abstinence (or abstinence-based ‘recovery’).


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-128
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date25 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016