Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Rose Williams

Second Advisor

David Ryder


This thesis is framed as an inquiry into the attitudes and experiences of women to their use of psychoactive substances and the contribution that use makes to their construction of gendered identities and meanings they derive from their use. The thesis also explores how these meanings relate to, and contrast or concur with, wider social attitudes relating to ‘feminine’ identity, issues of resistance and control, self control, happiness, independence and dependence, social roles and relationships, risk-taking and safety. The thesis aims to contribute to feminist understandings concerning substance use and to add a feminist interpretative voice to the alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) field of inquiry. The inquiry adopts an eclectic approach, being shaped and informed by feminist thought, poststructuralist philosophy, the ATOD field and anti-oppressive research methods. Descriptive narratives of experience were elicited from in-depth guided discussions with three women who are all known to me. All the women are in their thirties, are mothers and currently use legal and illegal psychoactive substances. Utilising recursive, intuitive and interpretive methods, common themes were drawn from the narratives and explored to reveal common and disparate meanings, identities and discourses as they relate to experience with substance use. Within this study narratives are understood to be cultural texts. Analysis involved the examination of gendered discourses that surround women substance users in the ATOD field and society generally and their interplay with those narratives. In keeping with feminist sensibilities I included my own thoughts and feelings, locating myself within the project. Findings suggest women substance users may experience substance use as a site of power and agency rejecting narrow constructions of femininity and embracing independence. The identities and socia1 roles for these women substance users, such as mother, appear to remain largely intact. The relative importance and presentation of alternative identities, however, remain in a constantly fluid state with particular roles being fore-grounded or receding depending on context and mood. The inquiry is viewed as a collaborative experience based on friendship. Knowledge is shared in a reciprocal relationship hopefully allowing alternative understandings and conceptualisations of substance using women to emerge from their experience.