Volatile bodies: Stories of corporeal pleasure and damage in marginalised young people's drug use Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: This paper explores the connection between meaning and corporeal pleasure in drug use experience through considering accounts of inhalant use made by marginalised young people in Melbourne, Australia. Inhalants (also known as volatile substances or solvents) have a reputation internationally as drugs of desperation rather than enjoyment. Corporeal pleasure as a motive for inhalant use is generally overlooked in policy, drug research literature and health education--as is frequently the case also in relation to other forms of drug use practiced by marginalised peoples. In contrast, harms such as brain damage and death are strongly emphasised. METHODS: Twenty-seven young people with current or past experience of inhalant use were interviewed, each between one and three times. Participants were asked to speak about what they liked and did not like about inhalant use. A narrative analysis was used to identify stories about the bodily encounter with inhalants that were iterated across interview transcripts. RESULTS: Two narratives about corporeal experiences of inhalant-induced intoxication are discussed here, both of which research participants framed within an understanding of these drugs as pre-eminently dangerous. The first narrative is that inhalant use is an ineffable experience of the body. The second links the intensity of pleasure occasioned by inhalant use with the infliction of brain damage and risk of death. CONCLUSION: Catastrophic beliefs about the dangers associated with inhalant use serve in some instances to accentuate the pleasures it affords users, and at the same time debilitate their sense of capacity to change. Additionally, where drug users are depicted as self-harming rather than seekers of (albeit risky) pleasure, the range of policy options likely to be implemented is restricted. Education provided through drug treatment presents an opportunity to counter some of the harms associated with narratives of pleasure and damage in drug use.

publication date

  • October 2008