University of Illinois at Chicago
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Degrees of Separation: Drug Use by Graduate and Professional School Students

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posted on 2015-10-21, 00:00 authored by Oren M. Gur
The consumption of psychoactive substances is of interest across many disciplines, as using “drugs," including alcohol, can influence internal processes and social behaviors. In the U.S., the use and procurement of mind-altering drugs is one of the more common forms of behavior pursued in contravention to the law, yet extant criminal justice research and theory on substance use incorporates few studies of people who use drugs while avoiding sanctions or treatment, such as educated middle-to-upper class users pursuing careers and maintaining conventional lifestyles. The present study addresses a gap in the literature by investigating a population of users who do not typically come to the attention of the criminal justice system and describing attendant processes that have yet to be characterized fully. Utilizing snowball and convenience sampling frameworks, graduate and professional school students (N=27) who engaged in substance use while attending their respective programs (MA, MS, MBA, JD, MD, PhD) were recruited for in-depth semi-structured interviews. Audio-recorded interviews were conducted in the participant’s place of choice (e.g., at home, in a bar, on campus), transcribed, and analyzed. The data indicate processes unique and common to participants, settings, and types of programs. Initial exposure to drinking and drugs occurred in the home, with adolescent peers, or after arriving at college or graduate school. For most, substance use peaked during college, particularly alcohol consumption. Enrollment in graduate or professional programs offered, and sometimes even encouraged, opportunities to use substances in professional settings, which necessitated decisions about how to integrate what had been a mostly social activity into other realms; some preferred to maintain segmented identities, and were able to do so in spite of occasional contact with law enforcement, while others incorporated social use in professional spheres. The accounts of students involved in substance use demonstrate how academic understandings are leveraged in social processes associated with using and talking about drugs. The findings underscore the role of educational privilege in shaping the pursuit and ramifications of substance use, and may generalize to other forms of privilege and criminality.



Ibarra, Peter R.


Criminology, Law, and Justice

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Frohmann, Lisa Goldstein, Paul J. Rosenbaum, Dennis P. Watson, Amy C.

Submitted date



  • en

Issue date


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