Between April 1997 and November 1999, I followed eight socially excluded female drug users in an attempt to describe their lives and living conditions. The study employs an ethnographic approach with the focus being directed at the specific woman and her life in relation to the social context where this life is lived.

The study’s objective has been to describe the lives and living conditions of the eight drug-using women, as well as the extent of the opportunities available to them, as being determined by mechanisms of social exclusion. Their lives are understood on the basis of a feminist and social constructionist perspective where perceptions of ‘the drug-abusing woman’ are regarded as the result of constructions of gender and deviance. The theoretical perspectives proceeds from the idea that one is not born a woman but rather becomes one. The fundamental idea is that women become women by means of processes of femininisation, in the context of which certain ways of interpreting and presenting oneself as a woman are regarded as good and others as bad. Our images of ‘the female drug addict’ are based on how we define and interpret deviance and on the cultural and social thought and behaviour patterns we ascribe to people on the basis of bodily differences. It is images of ‘the good woman’ that defines what we regard as characteristic of ‘the bad woman’ and vice versa.

The findings are organised into three main topics: femininity, living conditions and social control. The main findings are: The women described themselves as women by relating to normative messages about how women “are and should be”, and their drug use constituted a means of coping with life from their social position. Their life revolved to a large extent around money via a constant struggle to find enough to cover the rent, food and other basic necessities. And finally, how the women’s relations to societal institutions were formed by their social position as ‘female drug addicts’ and how the asymmetry of these relations produced certain fixed patterns of action for the parties involved.

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