Gender, recovery and contemporary UK drug policy

Emma Wincup (School of Law, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Publication date: 7 March 2016



The purpose of this paper is to provide a gendered reading of the 2010 UK drug strategy and draw out the implications of the new recovery paradigm for female drug users.


The paper explores the concept of recovery at a theoretical level, uncovering the taken-for-granted assumptions in the three overarching principles: freedom from dependence; well-being; and citizenship. It also analyses the available quantitative and qualitative evidence on women’s access to recovery capital to explore the role gender might play in the journey to recovery.


Strategic thinking around recovery in the UK is largely silent on gender. However, close scrutiny of the available, albeit limited, evidence base on female drug users and feminist scholarship on the principles of well-being and citizenship suggests the need to understand recovery against a backdrop of the social and normative context of women’s lives.


Recent analyses of contemporary UK drug policy have focused on the conflation of recovery with abstinence and the displacement of the harm reduction agenda. They have failed to draw out the implications for particular groups of drug users such as women. The pursuit of recovery-based drug policy is not peculiar to the UK so the paper offers a case study of its gendered application in a particular national context.



Wincup, E. (2016), "Gender, recovery and contemporary UK drug policy", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 39-48.

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