How individuals experience and make sense of their problematic mephedrone use : an interpretative phenomenological analysis

Bansal, Gurjeet Kaur (2016) How individuals experience and make sense of their problematic mephedrone use : an interpretative phenomenological analysis. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


There has been a significant increase in the number of people using club drugs and entering treatment for problematic club drug use in the United Kingdom. It has been suggested, based on socio-demographics, that the treatment needs of such users are different from those of users of traditional drugs, and consequently specialist club drug clinics were introduced.

However, to date no research has explored the subjective experience of problematic club drug use to substantiate an understanding of users’ psychological treatment needs or the subjective psychological motivations to use club drugs, or how such users self-identify rather than being categorised in terms of socio-demographics. This research aims to answer these questions, with a focus on mephedrone, one of the most newly identified and popularly used club drugs in the United Kingdom.

Semi-structured interviews with six male users of mephedrone were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Findings suggested that the subjective experience of mephedrone use is like that of traditional drug use, and consequently that corresponding users’ psychological treatment needs are similar. The subjective motivation to use mephedrone was primarily concerned with a want to appease identity distress, a common precursor to substance misuse. Users of mephedrone appeared to make sense of their problematic use by progressing through the stages of change. Moreover, findings implied that stigmatising beliefs operated within the drug-using community, which facilitated the social construction of mephedrone as harmless in comparison to traditional drugs. This perception was found to be further propagated by terminology such as “club drugs” that are used within the professional arena and represent mephedrone as “fun”. Not only did the socially constructed image of mephedrone as harmless and fun encourage its use, it appeared to prevent users self-identifying with the stereotypical identity of problematic substance misuse commonly associated with traditional drug use. This potentially acted as a barrier against users of club drugs seeking treatment from generalised services based on the needs of traditional drug use, thus highlighting the necessity for specialised club drug clinics.

Implications of this research include introducing the under-represented area of problematic substance misuse to counselling psychology to promote the applicability of counselling psychologists to work in this field. This research fills the imperative training gap experienced by healthcare professionals based in the United Kingdom in relation to the understanding of problematic club drug use, and does so by providing subjective knowledge of the experience of problematic mephedrone use in order to develop the psychological treatments delivered. Furthermore, this research advocates the introduction of policies that would reduce the harm caused by mephedrone and demystify its socially constructed image. One such policy would be to suggest interventions to distribute information concerning the harms associated with mephedrone. Another would be to reframe the professional language used to describe club drugs. Lastly, this study highlights the need for further investigation into the stigmatising beliefs operating within the drug-using community that potentially act as a barrier preventing users of mephedrone from seeking treatment.

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