”Society is closed to you because you’re seen as a criminal” – the social implications of being an indebted drug user in Sweden
Sweden’s strict drug-policy is constructed out of a zero tolerance for drug use, a tolerance that is reflected in the majority view of society. In the country, severe financial indebtedness has been on the rise for the last decades. Previous research has demonstrated that being a drug user in countries that view drug use through a penal lens often leads to social exclusion. Research has also presented findings that suggest that being indebted not only leads isolation and social exclusion as well. What has not been done is combining (problem) drug use and indebtedness, and investigating what it means to be an indebted drug user in Sweden. In this paper, I research this issue through conducting semi-structured interviews with 10 indebted drug users. With the aid of the theoretical concepts of stigma and agency I explore the social implications of being an indebted drug user and the participants’ perceptions of the attainability of Swedish society. In using thematic analysis, I identify three themes responding to the three stigma processes which operate through the labels indebted, drug abuser, and criminal. Findings suggest that, even though they are made socially vulnerable by stigma processes, the participants make use of their agency to thwart these processes. When envisioning a better future for themselves, all participants arrive at the same conclusion – their emancipation and the key to society lies within the decriminalization of drug use.