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Social representations of polydrug use in a Finnish newspaper 1990–2016

Jenni Savonen (University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Pekka Hakkarainen (National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland)
Kati Kataja (National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland)
Inari Sakki (University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Christoffer Tigerstedt (National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 17 December 2018

Issue publication date: 5 April 2019




The purpose of this paper is to study the social representations of polydrug use in the Finnish mainstream media. Social representations are shared ways of talking about socially relevant issues and have ramifications on both individual and socio-political levels.


The social representations theory and the “What’s the problem represented to be?” analysis provided the theoretical framework. In total, 405 newspaper articles were used as data and analysed by content analysis and thematic analysis. The key tenets of the social representations theory, anchoring, objectifying and naturalisation, were used in data analysis.


The study found that polydrug use was written about differently in articles over the study period from 1990 to 2016. Three social representations were introduced: first, polydrug use as a concept was used to refer to the co-use of alcohol and medical drugs. This was seen as a problem for young people, which could easily lead to illicit drug use. Second, illicit drugs were included in the definitions of polydrug use, which made the social representation more serious than before. The typical polydrug user was portrayed as a person who was addicted to substances, could not quite control his/her use and was a threat to others in society. Third, the concepts were naturalised as parts of common language and even used as prototypes and metaphors.


The study provides a look at how the phenomenon of polydrug use is conceptualised in everyday language as previous research has concentrated on its scientific definitions. It also adds to the research of media representations of different substances.



Savonen, J., Hakkarainen, P., Kataja, K., Sakki, I. and Tigerstedt, C. (2019), "Social representations of polydrug use in a Finnish newspaper 1990–2016", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 123-132.



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