Focusing on the Bendigo area of Victoria, the second phase of SSAC’s ARC-funded research on experiences of alcohol and other drug addiction or dependence in Australia has now begun. With a population of 105 332, Bendigo is a major regional centre in Northern Victoria. It has a large service economy and hosts one of La Trobe University’s campuses. The site was chosen for this study because the area includes a significant regional centre, smaller satellite towns and a range of AOD services. It has also been the focus of recent media attention on its alleged high rates of crystal methamphetamine (ice) use, and offers an important opportunity for researching AOD use in contexts of high concern and controversy. The larger study, which commenced in 2014, involves collecting and analysing the personal accounts of people who describe themselves as having a drug habit, dependence or addiction, and presenting these accounts on a publicly accessible website, livesofsubstance.org. Participants will be recruited from different locations (urban/regional, Victoria and New South Wales). Variation in gender, AOD type, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation and treatment experience will also be collected. Importantly, the website will present a wide range of experiences. It aims to move beyond the usual narrow range of stories of trauma, collapse and redemption that tend to dominate popular discourses, and also show how people cope with addiction and live meaningful and rich lives.
The Bendigo interviews will add to the data set of 20 interviews collected in Melbourne in November 2014. The Melbourne interviews were very productive and our conversations with some participants continue: one participant, ‘George’, recently sent us a greeting card (pictured top),reflecting on his experience of the interview.
In conducting our Melbourne interviews, an approach to address the study’s aim of exploring and destabilising the concept of addiction was developed. Describing one aspect of this approach, project research associate Dr Kiran Pienaar commented,
As well as seeking participants who describe themselves as experiencing AOD dependence or addiction, we also targeted regular AOD users who do not identify with the regulatory categories of ‘addiction’, ‘dependence’ or ‘habit’, and who explain their use in other ways. We asked everyone we interviewed what addiction means to them and how it relates to or differs from such terms as drug habit and dependence. This speaks directly to our interest in exploring the range of language people use to describe their use and the complex meanings they invest in it.