Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Barbara Katz Rothman

Committee Members

Tom DeGloma

Lynn Chancer

Brian Kelly

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance | Sociology of Culture


Pharmaceuticals, Drug use, Medicalization, Drug Normalization, Constructionist study of social problems, Symbolic Interaction


This dissertation explores illicit psychoactive medication use among young adults. Overwhelmingly, the literature on this drug trend, particularly among this population, is grounded in a study of pathology. However, my research demonstrates that this obscures a significant portion of how youth practice and make meaning of their consumption of these controversial medications. The following phenomenologically based dissertation presents and unpacks the experiences, practices, and perspectives of young adults who illicitly consume psychoactive medications. Through analyzing 162 interviews of 18-29 year olds who report recent misuse of a prescription stimulant, tranquilizer, sedative, and/or opioid, I present the ways youth medicalize and normalize particular consumption practices and context. By taking seriously the ways youth experience these drugs in day to day life this phenomenological study highlights how youth construct socially responsible practices of illicit drug use. The focus and timing of this research is significant as it relates to gaining a more comprehensive social and cultural understanding of a well-known drug trend ubiquitously framed as one of today’s major social problems in U.S. society.