Addiction Research and Theory June, 2005, 13(3): 245–258

The drug career of the older injector
JUDITH A. LEVY1, & TAMMY ANDERSON2
University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health, 1603 West Taylor St. Room 751, Chicago, Illinois 60612 and 2University of Delaware, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, 337 Smith Hall, Newark, DE 19 716 (Received 28 November 2004)
1

Abstract Drug theorists have used the concept of a ‘‘career’’ to understand why some individuals enter and become deeply entrenched in a life organized around illicit drug-use. Previously career analyses have focussed on the lives and activities of chronic users at youth and middle age. We extend this work by examining the drug careers of life-long drug injectors (injection drug users, IDUs) of age 50 and more. Based on in-depth interviews with 40 active injectors between ages 50 and 68, we explore the interactional effects of aging and drug-use as they affect the lives of older injectors on the streets. We show that age forms a career contingency with the power to realign former roles and relationships. Retiring from the life career of chronic users seems doubtful for older users except through illness and death. Our findings point to the developmental aspects of a drug-dependent life style and why patterns and practices of drug-use change over time.

Keywords: Older injectors, drug careers, over age 50 users

Introduction As early as the late 1960s, a number of drug theorists discovered the usefulness of applying the theoretical concept of a life ‘‘career’’ to understand chronic addiction (Faupel, 1991). Using this perspective (Linton, 1936), the human life course can be seen as consisting of a series of life stages and events from birth to death that are normatively prescribed and partly age-driven. This trajectory or ‘‘career,’’ as it is known to life course theorists, consists of ‘‘a progression of statuses and functions which unfold in a more or less orderly though not predetermined sequence in the pursuit of values which themselves emerge in the course of experience’’ (Foote, 1956). Each life career takes on its own imprint of personal attributes, timing, role content, progressions, and possible reversals.

Correspondence: Judith A. Levy, School of Public Health, The University of Illinois at Chicago, 1603 West Taylor St. Room 751, Chicago, Illinois 60612. Tel.: (312) 9967825. E-mail: judlevy@uic.edu ISSN 1606-6359 print: ISSN 1476-7392 online ß 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd DOI: 10.1080/16066350500053554

another career based on marriage. 1973). due to death. is the dominance with which it forms a central principal around which individuals organize their life (Van Maanen. Methods In the fall of 1998. What makes something a career. an individual who uses illicit drugs throughout life may engage simultaneously in a career involving an occupation or profession. We offer an analysis of their personal accounts as a way to examine the changing nature of drug dependency over time as it is experienced within the context of human aging. if not sooner. each of which may complement or conflict with another (Marshall & Levy. points to the stages and steps through which drug-use goes beyond mere physical addiction to become a way of life. an aspect of ‘‘normal’’ illicit drug-use over time that has received little scientific attention. used the career concept to characterize and understand the occupational dynamics of being a drug dealer within the world of drug trafficking. for example. Stephens (1991) similarly characterized commitment to the role of the street addict as synonymous with a commitment to living a deviant career. and a fourth that rests on the demands of coping with chronic addiction. For example. 2003). The following analysis examines the lived experience of street addicts over age 50 who began narcotic use in their teens or early adulthood and have continued to use over drug-careers spanning 25 or more years. Levy & T. sometimes juggling both roles simultaneously and at other times sequentially. They never quit the addict career – at least not for long. Rosenbaum (1981) also insightfully used the career concept to analyze and vividly describe the reduced life options of women on heroin. His analysis. Typically the career of drug users ends by middle age. In drug research. Our analysis also contributes to understanding the end stages of the life-long career of an injection drug user (IDU). Cousins and Bentall (1989) compared the careers of drug injectors with that of drug smokers. illness. Faupel’s (1991) classic work on Shooting Dope conceptualized hard-core heroin-use as a career much like any other conventional occupation. 1990). A. meanwhile. Mertens & Brennan 1995). (1986) examined the addiction career patterns of male alcoholics over a 10-year period in the hope of understanding the background against which alcohol careers unfold and which factors explain why people stop or continue to engage in problem drinking. rather than merely a set of regular activities or constant pursuits. Maddux and Desmond (1986) attempted to identify the major features of varying substance abuse careers. the concept of drug-use as a life career has largely been used to explain the personal transformation that begins with the first episode of drug-use to chronic druguse (Waldorf. These are the hardened veterans or the ‘‘moms’’ and ‘‘pops’’ as they are called on the street. Nonetheless. The dealers that they studied often held the career of both drug entrepreneur and consumer. Becker (1953). Yet little is known of what a drug career looks like among aging hard-core users. drugs. 1977). In a similar vein. Taylor et al. Adler and Adler (1983). still another involving parenting. Anderson People engage in multiple life careers at any one time. based on in-depth interviewing. with emphasis on how these features condition relapse and recovery. the National Institute of Aging funded a small exploratory study of aging. and HIV risk among injecting drug users over the age of 50 . Kwiatkowski & Booth.246 J. drew on the career paradigm to describe how marijuana users go from their first uncertain experience in using the drug to becoming habituated users with an acquired deviant identity. 2000. or for some other reason (Moos. some unknown number of chronic drug users continue to engage in drug-use well into or throughout old age (Bell & Montoya.

delivering AIDS education and prevention materials. These older users formed the sampling pool for the present study. Coding We coded the in-depth interviews with Atlas. crack. It employed a two-person (one male and one female) outreach team. Under this method. As a part of their community outreach and recruitment duties. male (25).The drug career of the older injector 247 (R03 AG16041). memos were created to record ideas about the relationships among the codes. The coding process began by assembling a ‘‘thesaurus’’ of words to represent key themes in the transcripts. we recruited 40 older IDUs to address the topics of aging. Subsequently we created codes to represent each theme’s word list or range of ideas. We reached saturation for our research objectives with 40 respondents (Glaser & Strauss. cocaine. or amphetamines). Conceptual modeling functions of the software program assisted us to piece together . the team walked through the neighborhoods. that had been awarded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (R01 DA09231). copping areas and shooting galleries daily. Most of them were African-American or Latino. 1967). and HIV exposure and knowledge. Although the Partners’ sample was 40% female. one with seven males and another with six females. preliminary assumptions about the phenomena that are being studied are generated deductively from initial information. use of injection equipment and other avenues of consumption. The recruits. and then tested and revised as additional data become available. to compare and contrast the respondents’ viewpoints and information that they supplied. testing. Approximately 21% (n ¼ 222.0. drug-use. None were college graduates. economically depressed neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. They were in the age range of 50–68. all of whom were active injectors. while 25 had a high school diploma or slightly more. which is a sub-component of the grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss. sexuality and sexual activities (past and present). both of whom were former injecting heroin users indigenous to Chicago’s west side. The guide was developed from preliminary and exploratory work with two focus groups. Partners in Community Health. The Partners project was located in a converted storefront within a high crime. Participants received $25. Sample Using convenience sampling. they recruited active IDUs for participation in the research component of the Partners project. Analysis of the interview data employed the constant comparative method. Most were black (38 of 40 respondents). parents (36) and single (32). 1967).00 as compensation for the time spent being interviewed. tended to be poly-drug users (some combination of heroin. 179 male and 43 female) of the 1066 IDUs enrolled in the Partners project were 50 years of age or older.ti-v. Their age ranged from 18 to 68. The interview guide included open-ended questions and discussion about various aspects of drug careers: drug-use (past and present). Their educational attainment was modest. ‘‘hustles’’ (past and present). and about 40% were female. Data collection Data for the analysis are drawn from in-depth interviews conducted after having obtained written informed consent. We choose to over-sample women from the Partner project for the present study to obtain adequate gender representation. For example. to recruit 1066 active IDUs for HIV counseling. The study evolved from a parent grant. Ten were HIV sero-positive. only 16% of the women were over the age of 50 years. We began by recruiting those most recently enrolled in the Partners project because their addresses were the most current. criminal activities. As the transcripts were read and re-read. Code numbers and pseudonyms were used in place of names to protect anonymity and all identifying information in the transcripts was removed during coding. This process relied on the ‘‘word frequency’’ and search and replace functions of the software program. During their strolls. and partner notification. and HIV risk.4. 15 had not completed high school.

typically were injecting drugs once or more times daily by the age of 30. I’ll borrow it [money for drugs] okay? Or I’ll suffer through it [withdrawal]. beliefs. As it is also true among younger IDUs (Preble & Casey. what differs at this stage of career are the methods through which they obtain drugs or drug-money.’’ that young and predominately male and largely black minority cohort of heroin users of the 1960s and the early 1970s who replaced an earlier generation of middle age and older white male injectors. Waterston. Levy & T. Self-reports of injecting heroin. methods such as robbery and intimidation in obtaining drugs appeared too difficult. Twenty-five respondents reported daily heroin or cocaine injecting and/or snorting. Like their younger counterparts (Agar. they became less likely and able to procure drugs through physically demanding behaviors or ones that posed possible bodily harm. touting (serving as liaison between seller and buyer for compensation). Anderson codes and memos to capture the emergent patterns. A. Judging that their aging bodies could no longer meet the challenges of engaging in strenuous physical acts. We infuse many of them in the next section. with one older informant reporting having used for over a 50-year period. and dealing (Levy. obtaining drugs for use took up much of our informants’ daily lives. Sam. When compared to younger users or their own earlier history. I can’t run no more. Their beginnings as users coincided with the decline of industry in urban centers like Chicago and an increasing flow of drugs from Marijuana to heroin into the country’s impoverished and working class neighborhoods (Waterston. Although most often crack is smoked. cocaine. and categories of personal experience. exchanging sex for drugs. and the speedball mixture of heroin and cocaine reveal that our informants were still very entrenched in the career of drug-use even though they had passed into later adulthood. Although ours was a study of injecting drug users. reflects on his own life circumstance: I’m too old for the penitentiary thing and too old for the pistol. the older street addicts that we studied drew throughout their lives upon one or more means to support their drug practices including boosting (stealing). however. or the legal penalties if caught and incarcerated seemed too much daunting.’’ while four reported injecting heroin or cocaine at least once a month supplemented by more frequent crack smoking. Yet as they grew older. theft. 1993). Entry into drug-use as a life-long career for our informants began typically through peer-introduction when they were still in their teens to early 20s. The intersecting careers of aging and drug-use Our informants belong to the cusp of what Capel and Peppers (1978) refer to as the ‘‘pleasure seekers. we also found three respondents who reported that they had injected it in the past month. The remaining five respondents had abstained from drugs in the last six months. 1998). The program also allowed us to mark specific quotations to illustrate the relevant themes. cause I can’t run. 1973). most of our sample had been engaged in a drug-use career either off-and-on or continuously for 25–30 years. running errands. but previously had used heroin or cocaine daily. So. 1969. a veteran user who supported his dependency through theft in his younger years. . Three informants told us they smoked crack daily and injected heroin once or twice a month. who began using in their mid-twenties. Thirty-five of total sample reported having injected heroin in the past month. 1993).248 J. risky. Even the comparatively slow starters. Seven additional respondents reported being weekly heroin injectors or ‘‘snorters. 17 of these older users also reported smoking crack in the past month with four reporting doing so more than 20 times. with 19 having done so more than 20 times. Too old for trying to snatch a little old woman pocketbook. Thus by the time we interviewed them.

the physical declines of age pose a major career contingency with the power to negate and reshape former life-long drug-use and procurement patterns. The physical and mental declines common to the later stages of the life course add to these health difficulties among users ¨ zdemir. .’’ Becker (1963) uses the term ‘‘contingency’’ to refer to those personal characteristics. Lettiere & Quesada. . calling in favors. Now sometimes I work at the table. but men used to take care of my habit and stuff . earlier success in generating drugs or money through sexual favors is abandoned in favor of other means that do not rely on physical desirability. can form a career contingency with the power to command the realignment of previous use patterns and social positioning. Tanya explains that when she was younger. I have no looks. Like when I was younger. direction. 1992). in commenting on the reduced value with age of her sexual services. include abscesses at infected injection sites. stages. hepatitis. cirrhosis. . Obtaining money from men for sexual favors has always been a prime means for women users to support their drug dependency (Bourgois. 2003). and older male users like Sam. and content of any form of life career. Maher & Curtis. aging affects the older adult users in two ways. you know.. stomach disorders. race/ethnicity and personal circumstance determine the pace. Drug-use exerts a physical toll on chronic users of any age. Even comparatively lesser effects of aging and/or chronic ill health. I got nothing like I used to have. 1996). and serving as lookout when drugs are traded. and historical happenings that help to shape a particular person’s career trajectory. As a career contingency. as we noted earlier. running errands. edema. In this. older users perceive that the . Not that I thought so. the biological correlates of advancing age can complicate or interfere with older users’ ability to procure drugs or money for drugs. As these accounts suggest. timing. gender. . This labor includes tasks such as bagging wares. 1997. 1981). older women who attempted or used this route typically found that their social capital in sexual bartering had diminished with age. I’m older now. Second. however. you know – bag it up. ‘‘I’d ask for $50 and I’d get $100 or $200. Similarly. Although sexual exchange remains a potential option for females at any age. getting drugs at a mature age typically requires performing the socially lowest work within the drug-trafficking world (Waterston. managing to varying degrees (O the symptoms and treatment of such conditions can become a full-time and possibly exclusive career based on the sick role that competes with the role requirements of drug-use and other life career choices. Factors such as age. And go to the doctor and get some medicine for someone . Linda explains: I’m older and money is not easy to get. Aging as a career contingencies. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. life events. First. wheedling from others. Older women injectors find themselves in a similar predicament as their male counterparts. older substance abusers are not unlike many other older adults for whom the physical aspects of aging render their bodies unable to fully perform and/or compete in a valued social role. Other methods to supplement or support their dependency include borrowing. and doing without. and inflamed or collapsed veins. Tired and often looking far older than their actual years (Rosenbaum. Common health problems. When severe.. heart and circulatory problems. among the older users that we studied. And sell it. Busto & Naranjo. 1993).The drug career of the older injector 249 For Sam. It also brings some level of personal loss in terms of reduced self-esteem and positioning within the local drug culture (Anderson & Levy. Fourie. which often reflect co-occurring complications from alcoholism and other drug-related illnesses.

Those who occupied central positions in the local drug culture in their youth found themselves relegated in old age to the perimeters of today’s drug world through a process and circumstance that we describe elsewhere (Anderson & Levy. Now I do. the drug careers of the older users that we studied were declining in terms of their presence and status within the local drug culture. While the term ‘‘career’’ typically connotes a forward or upward progression toward a desired end (Gustafson. older users typically are accorded the worst and lowest desired roles in the drug trade.’’ In essence. the connection between life-long dependency on the drug and increased physical tolerance that robs the substance of its pleasurable effects was not self-evident. all of whom were younger. the drug careers of injectors over age 50 appear marginalized when compared to that of younger users. seemingly tougher. our respondents with a history of drug dealing reported no longer being able to compete successfully against other sellers in the marketplace. It affects my nerves. Murphy & Murphy. school graduation. discrimination. 1963). fear of stigma. 1956). This principle.’’ Our informants also commonly complained that today’s heroin was of lesser purity and quality than when they first began using. Joseph and Des Jarlais (1989) also found. Belinda explains: ‘‘My body chemistry has gone through different changes – whereas back then (when she was young) I wouldn’t have cold sweats. My blood pressure wouldn’t flare up when I was younger. they just make it too hard. 2002). they typically drift as they age toward performing lesser jobs that no one else wants. Now it does when I’m sick. and/or possible hospitalization that would separate them from a ready drug supply also discouraged them from seeking medical help for their symptoms or entering drug treatment. and marriage ceremonies function in society to mark the forward progression of individuals through various life and career stages while simultaneously discouraging attempts to reverse directions or regress to an earlier stage of personal and/or social development.250 J. those with even a slight bit of experience have an advantage over the neophyte (Becker & Strauss. Status passages and normative celebrations such as birthdays. Like their younger counterparts (Regen. coming to the attention of law enforcement. whereas it used to not do so. Career contingencies are central to movement from one stage to another within a career (Becker. Apparently. 1972). Levy & T. more violent. however. No matter what their experiences were as users when they were young. As Waterston (1993) reports. In some careers. does not hold for the aging substance abuser. the biological and social processes of aging limited the centrality of the role that they could play on the ‘‘streets’’ as they grew older (Anderson & Levy. For example. Career mobility. 2003). Anderson physical declines of age bring decreased ability to metabolize and enjoy the effects of drugs or to tolerate the symptoms of withdrawal. and typically known to hold strong gang affiliations. survival and daily sustenance . we discovered that the older injectors whom we interviewed tended to substitute alcohol and barbiturates for illicit drugs when the latter were unavailable or the physical effects of heroin or other street drugs were too harsh for an aging body to tolerate. it can also involve regression and downward movement. They also self-regulated the amount and/or frequency of their drug intake to moderate the negative side effects of the opiate on their aging bodies. For the most part. And that’s bull shit. Whatever status or presence they once held on the streets or the interactions of drug trafficking. As one former petty-level dealer in his 60s observed. A. ‘‘Things have changed so much now and you have to be hooked up with a gang. As Courtwright. 2003). Meanwhile.

Then I started back using and then every time I go around somebody now they be talking about my arms are still swole and I get tired of hearing stuff like this. My arms are like they swole. In sum.’’ That’s the first thing that come out of they mouth. Whatever high status. you know. Solo careers. His bedroom ain’t got no door. such as earning a living and heavily investing in family life. Over the life course. Marriage. His girl friend – young girl. old age brings social isolation in three ways. With few exceptions. Cause see. leave the life. She do rocks and she got all kinds coming through. an IDU in his 50s who still injects at least once a day. 1981). you know? So I don’t even visit my people too much now. the successful performance of a life career of any type typically demands the reciprocal interaction of the life careers of others. Meeting the social and physical pressures of drug dependency at any age demands constant attention to acquiring and using drugs and a commitment to a deviant identity to the exclusion of other career roles (Rosenbaun. their career movement inevitably proceeds downward. menial tasks and a ‘‘catch as catch can’’ form of drug procurement and survival that requires finding a niche of subservient usefulness. you just walk on through. So when he pass out drinking. friends. as Janet’s experience suggests. Chronic drug-use as a life career tends to be characterized by a gradual eroding of ties to the nonusing world and lessening interaction over time with family. peoples always coming in and out that do rocks and stuff. Carol. and acquaintances clean-up. most people belong to and hold allegiance to multiple relational networks based on career affiliations that may or may not intersect with one another. Janet. Sometimes I don’t even have it. you know. Such a separation from the straight world is further reinforced when interactions with nonusers are unsympathetic or critical. And they was talking about how my arms was cleaning up and stuff. for example. made a mess.’’ friends. By me keeping the house clean. and we found true for both genders. for example. And he don’t know who is in the room or not. As Rosenbaum (1981) observes of older drug-using women. he can’t put me out ‘cause I watch his back. the drug career of the older addict is supported through dead-end. like they used to drink or use and they done got on these programs and got they self together. . Milton. and no longer have anything in common with them. necessitates having a spouse. parenting rests on the anticipation of future birth or the presence of children (Lopata & Levy. describes the experience of being socially rejected by former associates who have moved on to forge new life careers: Some of my friends don’t even want to be bothered with me because they done. 2003). recounts her decision to sever her ties to her family: ‘‘Look at your arms. Within the age segregation of a drug labor market based on the correlates of youthfulness. these options of conventional life dwindled away to become largely unattainable or irrelevant. I have to watch the whole house. Some prove enduring while others may be discarded.The drug career of the older injector 251 among older users commonly rests on serving as ‘‘gophers’’ or providing small services for others. Here. or replaced as career demands dictate. the drug career of our informants began in their early teens with other life options. open to them. she young girl and he an old man. I had stopped for a while at one time. for example. that the older user may have once held on the streets no longer is socially recognized by their younger successors. is dependent on the largess of a former male ‘‘running buddy’’ who rents her a bit of floor space where she can sleep: I pay $50 a month. modified. As their drug careers became increasingly obligatory and demanding. First. older users find that over time some number of their drug-using ‘‘running buddies. if any. A similar pattern of disengagement from others and other life opportunities also occurs within the world of drug-use itself. and others who are nonusers.

Now see if I would of stayed. of course. action. laments at length over the lost opportunities of the career path not taken: My life been wasted because I know for a fact if I wouldn’t got into drugs. you know selling clothes. A third reason for the social isolation characteristic of drug careers in old age is that forging relationships with younger users is limited by low opportunity and self-perceived danger. I would of did that same thing. A. Pete told us of his fears of victimization by youthful street gangs. Age segregation in general is common to people in any walk of life including older users. I would stay on jobs like a friend of mine. It was always involved around drugs or I’d never really know the rules and it was like I had to do this but I really didn’t want to Or the relationships that I had with men was always forced on me or abuse. He retired from the place. ‘‘I feel out of place. that’s a thousand dollars isn’t it? Robert. Levy & T. Tim (a project counselor) can tell you. What differs for the older drug-user is that a certain number of these friends and acquaintances will succumb to overdose and the physical correlates of chronic drug-dependency. is a common experience of everyone who is aging. . including those that involve chronic drug-use and its correlates. As Christy explains: I really can’t say that that the relationships that I had were normal and that I had a normal sex life. ‘‘I don’t interact with them cause I’m much older than them. You know you get four dresses. I was making at least two or three thousand dollars a day. and the things which happen to him.’’ Career assessments. . Course. . Myra.’’ Such a life review applies to all forms of career endeavors. you figure like that. It was never just a normal relationship with a man who had love for me. Examination of our informants’ accounts of their lives shows that such introspection was common. The men and women that we studied had committed to serious drug-use so early in life that they had little adult time to contemplate or form alternate life careers that were not in some way shaped by the procurement and use of an illicit substance. you know – half price. Hughes (1971:127) reminds us that subjectively. I would get $250 for it. Anderson A second reason for the increased isolation of older users stems from mortality and morbidity that culls the ranks of their age-cohort over time. with somebody that I had to do something with to get something. for example.252 J. So it was really. . I would go places where I would get 4 or 5 hundred dollars dresses. going to get clothes. I wasted my life. I feel like I’m an old man playing a game that has got too fast for me. It doesn’t have no honor about it no more. meanwhile.’’ or ‘‘what might have been’’ emerged as troubling thoughts in the accounts that they offered. The main thing is that they violent and I don’t want no conflict with them. I didn’t make a million dollars but I came close to it. this phenomenon is exacerbated by older users’ fear of violence from younger males that causes both genders to shirk from closer interaction with them. my life been total different because I always did work. speculation over ‘‘what if . ‘‘a career is the moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meaning of his various attributes. you get $250 a piece for four dresses. Now that our informants had reached later life and were approaching old age. all the furs. all the money the money that I made over a period of years. So. This experience of losing friends to illness and death. . All the jewelry. the same time. We started working in the same place. I never had that. too dangerous. But you know. On the streets. Ron commented. regretted not having saved some of her earlier bounty from ‘‘boosting’’ to finance her old age: . And if I wasn’t using.’’ Similarly.

Another characterizes drug-use as subject to a maturation process in which drug-use decreases with age (Winick. Now I know what my priorities are. Still other explanations look to the role of interventions such as peer support. I’ll get off and I’ll start back. I regret what I’m taking my younger kids through. you know. were common. The older users that we studied maintained that they wanted to get off drugs and retire from the life but were unable to do so. Many theories and perspectives have been advanced to explain why most drug-dependent individuals end their drug-use careers by mid-to-late middle age. Lena explains the revolving door of drug dependency: I was diagnosed 5 years ago with HIV. Darrow & Klein. Meanwhile. Or never did think that I would see the day that I would start thinking the way I think now. Brenda explains: I want to stop all this talk and I want to start living right. It’s been on and off with me all my life. Serving prison time. And I want to write. as those that Brenda recounts. Continued drug-use and its social consequences throughout the life course had eroded most opportunities to develop a sense of positive self-worth in the straight world. I was living fast then. It never dawned on me. 1963:127). I just want a normal life. any career status and prestige that they once achieved in the local drug culture as more youthful adults tend to have dwindled with age. Of course. I never did think the day where I would even thing about slowing down. And I was getting so much money then. our informants were seasoned and sometimes temporarily successful veterans of drug treatment and other sobriety methods but they had failed to remain abstinent for long. offered periods of reoccurring respite from substance abuse but not for long following release. 1962). I get off and I start back. . Fantasies such as these three informants’ can never be substantiated through fact or evidence. John’s regrets echo those of many men who find that they have sacrificed time and important moments of their lives to some form of career involvement (Levinson. Robert glimpses an attractive shard of another type of life that might have been better but perhaps unattainable. Such life assessments as our informants describe become the basis through which individuals construct a sense of self and self-identity (Goffman. Having eschewed the straight life at an early age. during the usage of the drug. Then I went to detox and I got off drugs. I want to do something cause I feel that I can write a bit. One common explanation based on motivation contends that users stop when they reach ‘‘rock bottom’’ (Waldorf & Biernacki. A significant feature of the older addicts’ drug career lies in a growing sense of what Goffman calls a ‘‘spoiled’’ identity. My priorities was twisted. When I first got on SSI it was for drugs. I been on SSI. Such aspirations to quit. For the most part. Career exiting and retirement.The drug career of the older injector 253 And John recounts his own feelings of regret for having brought disappointment to others: I regret something that has that much control over me as the drug does. 1978). Then it was just about getting high and that was it. 1991). it is now too late to backtrack to youth or to know if such career paths would even have been feasible. In identifying with a friend’s life career. leaving the older users feeling socially diminished and morally devalued. Myra’s calculations of the amount of money that she might have been able to squirrel away to support her old age may well be exaggerated and unrealistic. and therapeutic communities in framing an alternative life style based on sobriety (Stephens. 1981). a common occurrence when illicit drug-use goes hand-in-hand with criminal activity. I regret the things that I could and should have and don’t have because of usage of the drug. I want to get back in church and I want to do something for the neighborhood. 12 steps programming. I’m tired. I just want to be straight.

By studying the older addict. it takes a little bit more time. You know when you’re older. . This promise. 1991). Conclusions Faupel (1991) observes that all careers have a temporal aspect in that each phase poses new challenges.. Levy & T. Substituting methadone for heroin implied moral failure – an overt and stigmatizing sign to self and others of having insufficient personal reserves (Courtwright et al. And I am going to get help and turn my whole life around. however. 1989). With few interpersonal links to the conventional world. While not all careers proceed or are experienced in an exact or completely parallel manner. our informants’ futures seem pre-programmed to accept continued dependency. pleasures. the harder it is . But not always. just like breaking a bone when you’re older.254 J. they often share common elements that lend insight into why users do what they do. and bodies that have become accustomed to lifetime drug-use. we can see it as part of a broader life style that develops over time and which can begin at any age. we are made aware of and provided with insights into how patterns of drug-use and procurement characteristic of a user-career shift and change over time. your body can bounce back kind of really easy. A. Without some form of formal drug treatment. The inconvenience and effort typical of maintaining a methadone regiment also dampened informants’ enthusiasm for entering treatment. 1981). you know what I am saying? Quicker than when you are older. Worries also arose about the possible negative effects of methadone withdrawal on physical resiliency: The older you get.’’ Getting into methadone treatment offered some hope for quitting. As Sheila plaintively explains. I don’t want to have to come in every day and get a drink of shit and stuff. I don’t want to drink it. was not without strong reservations among informants. I just want to cut it all out.. Rather than viewing dependency as merely a response to chemically driven physiological demands. demands. When you are younger – a baby can like fall and his bone will bounce. Moreover. . and tolls of a drug career that they never exit. even among those who previously had tried and failed. Bringing a career perspective to the study of addiction directs our attention to the developmental nature of the drug-dependent life style (Faupel. drug dependency typically ends long before they reach life’s final stages. One common property of drug careers is that their illicit activities are rarely confined to mere drug-use. the past history of our informants as chronic users suggests that relying on will power alone as Sam desires is doomed to failure. When you are young. demands. and privileges. Our analysis has focused on what happens to those unknown numbers who become so entrenched in the role. Exiting of a drug career for older users may well depend on severe illness that renders them unable to continue use or death itself. A plethora of studies have shown that narcotics-use and crime go .’’ In many ways meeting the demands of methadone treatment can become its own career that often conflicts with other more compelling and desired career options (Rosenbaum. we can explore the often forgotten end of the addiction trajectory and how age and life stage impact on its roles. ‘‘I don’t like to drink methadone. I’m not going to die being a drug-user. Older persons – I fall and it’s harder. For most street addicts who begin using in their youth. little chance of future employment as an incentive to quit. Anderson Discouragement over becoming drug-free undermined our informants’ motivation to seek drug treatment. Sam explains. ‘‘I don’t want to continue to use drugs. while trepidation over the negative consequences of not ending drug-use countervailed in pushing them toward it.

Their entry into what often becomes a career of chronic crack use also begins at a life stage typically thought too old to be vulnerable to drug initiation. 1995). In either case. Other career endeavors such as marriage. Such novices had to struggle with learning the ropes of drug procurement and usage within a drug subculture that holds great familiarity for the more traditional and quite savvy older users in our sample. even though determining which behavior most often proceeds the other poses a knotty and often contended challenge (Nurco et al. Having severed connections with the conventional world under the chronic demands of drug-use. Within the human life course. Unlike users who withdraw from drug-use as their age-peers die (Pottieger & Inciardi. how they are socially organized and the activities through which they are carried out are transformed concordant with and in response to the contingencies of biological maturation. but previously had not been users themselves. and/or employment also come into play over the life course of most adults including our informants. Given the consuming nature of drug dependency. Perhaps these ‘‘cross-overs’’ are older IDUs like those whom we studied who now find crack more available or suited to their current situation. . compromise. Theories of social deviance including illicit substance abuse begin with the assumption that antisocial behavior is age-graded and changes across the life course (Nagin et al. Still others were strictly neophytes with no previous drug experience or social ties to the drug world of any type. Clearly. one major aspect of a life-long drug career is that inevitably it must accommodate the social and physical processes of aging and growing older on the streets (Stephens. more aggressive cohorts of dealers and consumers. who as they age and under the pressures of social change. the socio-emotional content of the career of the older users is often marked by loneliness. a lifetime drug career typically also entails a lifetime career of criminal activity that must be mutually coordinated. 1995). and even abandon other life endeavors in nurturing their drug careers. 1981). the older users whom we studied appear permanently committed either by choice or necessity to maintaining a drug career even in the face of personal anomie. including heroin. 1991). In doing so. 1991). Types and levels of drug-use at the later life stage must be modulated to fit the aging body’s ability to absorb narcotic drugs and other psychoactive substances.. they counter traditional age-norms and stereotypes proscribing that crack use is for the young (Rosenberg. parenting. and having been pushed to the outer perimeters of the drug world by younger. and this multitasking requires simultaneous social juggling of numerous demands and competing and complementary social roles. 1988). move from center positioning in the illicit drug culture of their youth to the margins of today’s differing drug culture where they participate largely unseen by others. askew. Our data show that while drug careers can persist over time and across life trajectories. it is not surprising that over time users of any age may skimp on. stress.. Some of these late onset users report their previous experience of using other drugs. 2003) we describe the increasing marginality of older users. Others that Johnson and Sterk identified were acquainted with the drug world through sex partners and family members. the timing and sequencing in which key life events occur shape career trajectories (Hagan & Palloni. Elsewhere (Anderson & Levy. and fear of victimization. Methods of procuring drugs and living a drug-dependent lifestyle tend to shift from tactics demanding youthful strength and stamina to those that better accommodate the diminished physical capabilities of older age. Results from three community-based studies conducted by Johnson and Sterk (2003) reveal a not uncommon number of men at age 50 or older and women at midlife who begin crack cocaine use for the first time. The experience of the late onset drug user offers a case in point.The drug career of the older injector 255 hand-in-hand.

or former addicts who stay closely embedded in the drug world as substance abuse counselors and other professionals (Sharp & Hope. S. Unlike those younger adults who relinquish drug-use for marriage and parenthood (Gadd & Farral. Users whose careers span earlier periods. (1983).. T. & Adler P. few have access to alternative career options. it is tempting to assume that what is characteristic of one group of people at one historical time-point holds true for individuals who are like them in other times and places. Perhaps like many older adults (Lanspery. J. and sequencing of events.’’ References Agar. different age-cohorts. Goldsmith. it may be too difficult without close social support for older users to embrace sobriety and leave behind the subculture in which they matured and grew old. (1973). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. 98. 2004). H. Glencoe. timing. Acknowledgement This study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. S. Anderson The ability to stop using drugs seems a dim possibility for our informants. Becoming a marijuana user. 2002). A. In addition to whatever physiological dependency drives their continued drug-use. their life histories as they describe them conform to findings in the literature showing that older chronic substance abusers experience little sustained abstinence over time and for whom drugtreatment has low appeal (Kwiatkowski & Booth. P. R01-DA09231 ‘‘Community-Based HIV Partner Notification Study.. A. We recognize that other career patterns of lifetime illicit drug-use are possible with different sub-cultural mores. Social Problems. 1972). (1963). They are ´ s of reaching that state of ‘‘rock bottom’’ or ‘‘saturation’’ that the discouraged habitue propels users who are tired of the life into drug-treatment. and prevailing treatment options produced a particular set of experiences. R03. 2003. We are sensitive to the fact that the users we studied began and then matured into their drug careers at a time when the availability of particular drugs. Ripping and running: A formal ethnography of urban heroin addicts. Shifts and oscillations in deviant careers: The case of upper-level drug dealers and smugglers. existing laws. M. H. pace. H. . (1953). NIA. 1995). Thus. or who will form the future generation are likely to have differing experiences (Capel. and across life circumstances. Becker. Also. this tendency poses an intervention challenge for both drug-treatment and drug policy in instituting age-appropriate methods that include treatment aftercare that would help them to adjust. 2001). If true. Marginality among older injectors in today’s illicit drug culture: Assessing the impact of ageing. Addiction. IL: Free Press. A. Levy & T. Moos et al.’’ That is. different drugs. Becker. 470–477. 57. Waddell & Stewart. Anderson.256 J. AG16041 ‘‘HIV Risk Among Older Injecting Drugs Users. New York: Academic Press. 195–199. & Levy. they prefer to ‘‘age in place’’ by remaining in a familiar socio-environment where they know the rules and what to expect.’’ and by the National Institute on Aging. much research remains to be done in understanding how the career paths of aging and drug use co-occur within the context of other forms of substance abuse. the older user typically is too old and too socially disenfranchised to start a new career venture as a member of conventional society. (2003). 31. Adler. NIH. One of the potential dangers of examining human activities from a life course perspective lies in the temptation to commit what Riley (1973) refers to as the ‘‘life course fallacy. American Journal of Sociology.. Indeed. 761–770.

(2004). P. Busto. Substance Use and Misuse. & Strauss. The sociological eye: Selected papers on Institutions and Race (pp. R. R. J. Levy. J. R. J. (1971). Aging on the street: Drug use and crime among older men. (1981). T. Criminal careers. 199–211. L. 35–49. & Inciardi. Preble.. Criminology. The movement from jobs to careers in American industry. 20. T. (1936). 30(13–14). New York: Random House. Capel.. 323–341). 111–139. (1996). D. P. Addictive Diseases: An International Journal. Bell. N. R. desistance. (1995). personality. Transactions of the Third World Congress of Sociology. (1989). 33(Supplement 2). Pescosolido (Eds).. C. A. . A. (1973). & Palloni. The elderly and the use of illicit drugs: Sociological and epidemiological considerations. H. 26. F. A. A. (1997). 245–260). (1991). M. Relapse and recovery in drug abuse. Hughes. Theoretical Criminology. P. Levinson. 253–263. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. D. Criminology. K. Gainesville: University of Florida Press. & Klein.. (1956). Lettiere. Murphy. A. Fourie. 62. R. W. Pharmacokinetic changes in the elderly: Do they O contribute to drug abuse and dependence? Clinical Pharmacokinetics. Handbook of aging and the social sciences (3rd Edn... H. 31(5). J. Moos. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Joseph. & Levy. Foote.). D. Riley. In R. Journal of Gerontology. D. E. (1956). S. NIDA Research Monograph 72 (pp. Capel. 30–40. and subjectivity. J. Seasons of a man’s life. Nurco. R. W. Regen. (Eds) (2003). Reprinted In E.. N. International Journal of Addictions. L. Maher. W.. B. 13(2). Women on heroin. & Murphy.The drug career of the older injector 257 Becker. NJ: Rutgers University Press. E. 102–106. (2003). Lanspery.. S. P. J. Dying: The career of the nursing home patient. (1978). & Levy. Marshall. N. M. 1385–1404. J. D. V. Levy & B. The Journal of Mental Health Administration. George (Eds). (1969). L. Relapse and recovery in substance abuse careers. (1967). H. P. (2000). and Social Change. (1988). & Booth. 1925–1951. Linton. (1991). Tims & C. Shooting dope.. R. E. Public Opinion Quarterly. & Farral.. Goldsmith. A. B. E.. Addicts who survived: An oral history of narcotic use in America. & Moffitt.. M. Johnson. E. 389–403.. Law. 1467–1472. D. D. Aging in place... (1972). Encyclopedia of aging (pp. Ekderdt (Ed. J. (1992). (1989). A. The study of man. Rockville: National Institute on Drug Abuse. & Sterk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 155–173. 33.. Social networks and health Vol VIII: Advances in medical sociology (pp. NJ: Prentice Hall. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. (2002).. Mertens. Research on Aging. W. (1986). S.. 3(3). Lopata. J. Goffman. (1998). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 1–24. Nagin. Englewood Cliffs. J. Hagan. W. In J. G. Taking care of business: The heroin user’s life on the street.). Darrow. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. & Desmond. Social misery and the sanctions of substance abuse: Confronting HIV risk among homeless heroin addicts in San Francisco. 49–50). D. L. 18. & Curtis. 372–885. 35. Crime. The aging narcotic addict: An increasing problem for the next decades. Z.. G. 4.. C. New York: Macmillan. I. Rosenberg. (1990). (1995). Roman & Littlefield. Gustafson. (1963). & Bentall. E. (1978). & Strauss. (2002). & Des Jarlais. H. New York: Aldine Publishing Company. A. V. & Brennan.. Faupel. C. 27(1). 84. B. Aging and cohort succession: Interpretations and misinterpretations. 9. The International Journal of Addictions. L. Careers. 2. F. 22(4). American Journal of Sociology. In D. Maddux. Crimes as social events in the life course: Reconceiving a criminal controversy. (1972). & Kinlock. Farrington.. E. 8(2). 37. C. J. J. Cycles. J. New York: Academic Press. and adult socialization.. C. 332–345. Women on the edge of crime: Crack cocaine and the changing contents of streetlevel sex work... Rosenbaum. E. (2003). Greenwich: JAI Press. T. S131–S137.. T. AIDS and injecting drug-use in later life. & Montoya. 123–126. S. 87–100. T. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. Waddell. 24–131). ¨ zdemir. 221–242. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. pp. In F. A. C. J. Life-course trajectories of different types of offenders. 226–338. 49–71). Hughes (Ed. G.. Heroin users’ careers and perceptions of drug use: A comparison of smokers and injectors in the Mersey Region. E. Recent research on the relationship between llicit drug use and crime.. E. W. Drug users’ lay consultation processes: symptom identification and management. The aging addict: A longitudinal study of known abusers. Leukefeld (Eds). Courtwright. Pottieger. (1981). & Quesada. 13. Program characteristics and readmission among older substance abuse patients: Comparisons with middle-aged and younger patients.. Kwiatkowski. & Peppers. Age and HIV risk in a national sample of injection drug and crack cocaine users. P. D. & Naranjo. Social Problems. Gadd. Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. 44. A. M. A... & Casey. M. Aging and dying. and careers. G.. 221–258. C. S229–S232. & Stewart. British Journal of Addiction. Glaser. K. turning points. Inc. Cousins. L. H. A.. S. (1995). Hanlon. Binstock & L. New Brunswick. Behavioural Sciences and the Law. HIV risk behaviors among older American drug users. Social problems across the life course. Bourgois. M. 33. 776–797. H.. C. Late-onset crack users: An emergent HIV risk group.

Anderson Sharp.. Van Maanen.. 14. Rockville. Duckitt. (2001). Waldorf. MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. The natural history from dope addiction: Some preliminary findings. Oppenheimer. C. (1981). Brown D. (1993). D. S. Leukefeld (Eds). 1–7. The street addict role. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Bulletin. Multivariate description of alcoholism careers: A 10-year follow up. & Sheehan. Careers in dope. .. Englewood Cliffs. Stephens. Winick. A. Relapse and recovery in drug abuse. Maturing out of narcotics addiction.. The Professional revisited: Cessation or continuation of a deviant career? Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. P. NIDA Research Monograph 72 (pp. 678–703. The Journal of Drug Issues. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. (1986). Griffin. (1962). M. Taylor. Organizational careers: Some new perspectives. (1973). Albany: State University of New York Press.258 J. R.. Waldorf. Waterston. A. M. Levy & T. (1991). & Hope. 11. (1977). T. & Biernacki. C. C. J. In F. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.. E. A. 72–85). E.. 61–73. L. F. D. Tims & C. G. Street addicts in the political economy.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful