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Module Specifications..

Current Academic Year 2023 - 2024

Please note that this information is subject to change.

Module Title Drugs in Society
Module Code NS141
School 38
Module Co-ordinatorSemester 1: Mark Philbin
Semester 2: Mark Philbin
Autumn: Mark Philbin
Module TeachersMark Philbin
NFQ level 8 Credit Rating 5
Pre-requisite None
Co-requisite None
Compatibles None
Incompatibles None
Coursework Only

In contemporary societies, drug use is variously a pervasive part of everyday life, a symbol of deviance, an aspect of one's identity, a pleasurable activity, a sociable activity, a medical necessity, a means of enhancement, a source of harm, a commercial opportunity and a focus for dispute. Using particular songs from popular music as a starting point, we explore all these aspects of drug use and deal with some fundamental questions about human nature, freedom, responsibility and risk-taking.

Learning Outcomes

1. Explore arguments about normalisation and normality in relation to both recreational drug use and the use of medications.
2. Discuss the value of a 'rational approach' to the evaluation of drug-related harms
3. Examine the uses of prohibition in the field of drugs policy
4. Explore libertarian arguments in favour of drug legalisation
5. Examine the case for harm reduction and the decriminalisation of illicit drug use
6. Explore arguments about the power of drugs to implicate people in addiction.
7. Consider the relations between alcohol and pleasure.
8. Examine arguments about the uses of medication and how this relates to population health
9. Explore the ethics of drug-assisted human enhancement.
10. Reflect upon the pervasiveness of drug use in contemporary culture by reference to popular music.

Workload Full-time hours per semester
Type Hours Description
Lecture24Participation in lectures
Online activity12Weekly Loop quiz
Assignment Completion30Preparation of an essay.
Online activity12Studying learning materials on Loop
Independent Study47For general reading
Total Workload: 125

All module information is indicative and subject to change. For further information,students are advised to refer to the University's Marks and Standards and Programme Specific Regulations at: http://www.dcu.ie/registry/examinations/index.shtml

Indicative Content and Learning Activities

"Everyone's At It": How normal is drug use?
By reference to a Lily Allen song, we explore the following questions: What counts as drug use? What are the range of drug uses within contemporary societies? How "normal" is it to use drugs? What are the implications of drug use as normal?

"How could you leave us?": Drug-related harms and risks
By reference to a song by NF, we explore the questions of how much harm is associated with drug use, what kinds of harm, how much risk of such harm and how to think about such risks.

"White Lines": Drug prohibition considered
By reference to the classic Grandmaster Flash song, we consider prohibition policies as a way of dealing with drug-related harms and risks. How effective are such policies? How does this vary? Is there a case for a nuanced approach and partial prohibitions?

"Legalize It": Drug use and individual freedom
By reference to a Peter Tosh song, we examine some arguments about the legalisation of drugs. Is there a case for the free availability of particular drugs- like cannabis- that are currently illegal in Ireland? More fundamentally, what about the argument that all drugs should be available to adults as a matter of individual freedom?

"Rehab": Harm reduction and decriminalisation
Taking the Amy Winehouse song as a starting point, we explore harm reduction as an ethical and pragmatic approach to drug-related harms. How did harm reduction develop as a standpoint? How does it relate to issues of stigmatisation and drug use? How does it relate to decriminalisation? How effective is decriminalisation and in what circumstances?

"Drug Ballad": Can drugs "get a hold" on us?
Considering the theme of an Eminem song, we address questions of the "power" of drugs to oblige people to act in particular ways. What is the significance of the distinction between "drug habits" and "drug addiction"? How do people "become" addicts? Is this simply a matter of the pharmacological actions of particular drugs that render people "dependent"? Is becoming an addict to be understood as a social process whereby issues of identity, place and life opportunities are at stake? How are we to understand recovery in the context of these questions?

"Cheers (Drink To That)": Alcohol and pleasure
Taking a cue from a Rihanna song, we consider questions to do with alcohol and pleasure: Is it possible to separate such pleasure from harm? Is "responsible drinking" an answer? How are we to view intoxication as a feature of fun, celebration, parties, events, holidays and so on? How is the idea of alcohol-related pleasure significant for the whole system of production, supply, consumption, and marketing of alcohol? How are the pleasures of alcohol experienced by non-drinkers?

"Drug Dealer": Health and the pharmaceutical industry
Prompted by a Macklemore song, we explore some critical questions to do with the pharmaceutical industry: How are we to view the commercial logic that shapes this industry? What implications does this have for the health, and health needs, of populations? Why is there a continuing increase in the amount of prescriptions per head of populations and in spending on pharmaceuticals?

"Antidepressants are so not a big deal": Why is antidepressant use increasing?
Referencing a song from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend", we wonder about the increasing prevalence of antidepressant use in contemporary societies and address the following questions: Do antidepressants work? If so, to what extent and for what reasons? What adverse effects are associated with antidepressant use? How convincing are accounts of depression as a brain disorder characterised by serotonin depletion? How is medicalisation relevant to increasing antidepressant use?

"White Rabbit": Using drugs to enrich experience or enhance abilities
Beginning with a video of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, we consider the use of drugs for enrichment or enhancement. How are we to regard the use of drugs for spiritual enrichment, openness to experience or self-transformation? And what about performance enhancement drugs in sport? Should they continue to be prohibited or are there grounds for allowing them? Is it defensible to use cognitive enhancement drugs to improve academic performance? And could or should drugs be used so that human beings can be happier, more confident, more caring or more moral?

Assessment Breakdown
Continuous Assessment100% Examination Weight0%
Course Work Breakdown
TypeDescription% of totalAssessment Date
Loop QuizWeekly quiz40%Every Week
EssayExploring an aspect of drug use in contemporary societies50%Sem 1 End
ParticipationFor attendance and participation in the classroom sessions.10%Every Week
Reassessment Requirement Type
Resit arrangements are explained by the following categories;
1 = A resit is available for all components of the module
2 = No resit is available for 100% continuous assessment module
3 = No resit is available for the continuous assessment component
This module is category 1
Indicative Reading List

  • Dumit, J.: 2012, Drugs for Life: How pharmaceutical companies define our health, Duke University Press, Durham,
  • Goldacre, B.: 2013, Bad Pharma: How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it, Fourth Estate, London,
  • McKeganey, N.P.: 2011, Controversies in Drugs Policy and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills,
  • Nutt, D.: 2012, Drugs- Without the Hot Air: Minimizing the harms of legal and illegal drugs, UIT Cambridge, Cambridge,
  • Babor, T: 2010, Alcohol: No ordinary commodity, Oxford University Press, Oxford,
  • Bean, P.: 2010, Legalising Drugs: Debates and dilemmas, Policy Press, Bristol,
  • Briggs, D.: 2013, Deviance and Risk on Holiday: An ethnography of British tourists in Ibiza, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke,
  • Butler, S., Elmeland, K., Nichols, J., and Thorn, B.: 2017, Alcohol, Power and Public Health: A comparative study of alcohol policy, Routledge, London,
  • Carnwath, T. & Smith, I.: 2002, Heroin Century, Routledge, London,
  • Gage, S.: 2020, Say Why To Drugs: Everything you need to know about the drugs we take and why we get high, Hodder & Stoughton, London,
  • Harris, J.: 2010, Enhancing Evolution: The ethical case for making better people, Princeton University Press, Princeton,
  • Healy, D.: 2004, Let Them Eat Prozac, New York University Press, New York,
  • Healy, D.: 2012, Pharmageddon, University of California, Berkeley,
  • Huxley, A.: 2004, The Doors of Perception, Vintage, London,
  • Karp, D.A.: 2006, Is It Me or My Meds?, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.,
  • Nutt, D.J.: 2020, Drink? The new science of alcohol, London, Yellow Kite,
  • Peele, S. & Grant, M.: 2014, Alcohol and Pleasure: A health perspective, Routledge, London,
  • Kramer, P: 1997, Listening to Prozac, Penguin, New York,
  • Sismondo, S. & Greene, J.A.: 2015, The Pharmaceutical Studies Reader, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester,
  • Pryce, S.: 2012, Fixing Drugs: The politics of drugs prohibition, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke,
  • Sandel, M.J.: 2009, The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the age of genetic engineering, Belknap, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
  • Szasz, T.: 1996, Our Right to Drugs, Syracuse Unversity Press, Syracuse,
  • Whitaker, R.: 2010, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Crown, New York,
Other Resources

Programme or List of Programmes
AFUAge Friendly University Programme
BHSBachelor of Science in Health & Society
BSSAStudy Abroad (DCU Business School)
BSSAOStudy Abroad (DCU Business School)
HMSAStudy Abroad (Humanities & Soc Science)
HMSAOStudy Abroad (Humanities & Soc Science)
IESAStudy Abroad (Institute of Education)
IESAOStudy Abroad (Institute of Education)
SHSAStudy Abroad (Science & Health)
SHSAOStudy Abroad (Science & Health)
Date of Last Revision07-FEB-12

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