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Cocaine users and self-regulation mechanisms

Grazia Zuffa (PhD Psychologist, based at Italian NGO Forum Droghe, Florence, Italy)
Patrizia Meringolo (Full Professor, based at University of Florence, Department of Education and Psychology, Florence, Italy)
Fausto Petrini (Professor, both are based at University of Florence, Department of Education and Psychology, Florence, Italy)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 25 November 2014




The prevalence of cocaine use has been increasing since the mid-1990s in many European countries, Italy included. There is a large variety of patterns of cocaine use in natural settings, but on the whole, the existence of different patterns of cocaine use remains widely unknown to drug professionals, as well as to public opinion. The purpose of this paper is to investigate patterns and trajectories of use, the meaning of use within the context of users’ life styles, the perception of controlled/uncontrolled use, personal strategies to keep drug use “under control”.


This paper illustrates findings from a qualitative study among 115 cocaine users. Participants were recruited using the snow ball sampling (a minimum lifetime experience of 20 instances of cocaine use was required).


The findings confirm the variability of cocaine use trajectories and the prevalent tendency towards more moderate patterns of use. Such variability is in patent contrast to the disease model of addiction and its assumed predetermined linear trajectories. Set, and particularly setting and all the environmental factors, such as life events, appear to be the variables that can better explain the dynamic course of patterns of use.

Research limitations/implications

The main limit concerns the non-randomisation in the selection of the nominees. Participants were recruited in the night entertainment scene of the main Tuscan cities through personal contacts of staff from risk reduction facilities: in spite of the personal and confidential approach, the number of “non institutionalized” users willing to collaborate was too low, therefore the authors decided to omit the randomisation.

Social implications

The findings bear social implications as they can contribute to a change in the social representation of users so as to reduce the stigma. They can also prompt innovation in the operational models of drug services.


It is the first qualitative research from the “control” perspective ever led in Italy.



Zuffa, G., Meringolo, P. and Petrini, F. (2014), "Cocaine users and self-regulation mechanisms", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 194-206.



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