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Coming off drugs: A critical history of the withdrawing body

Walmsley, Ian

Coming off drugs: A critical history of the withdrawing body Thumbnail


Ian Walmsley
Senior Lecturer in Criminology


Heroin withdrawal is perhaps one of the most taken-for-granted components of the addiction framework. Heroin users as well as researchers, policy makers, and practitioners have become dependent on it for thinking about and acting upon the process of heroin leaving the body. It is thought to be among the most challenging aspects of the recovery journey and has been linked to a range of public health, legal, and social problems. The taken-for-granted nature of heroin withdrawal has arguably limited its scrutiny in sociological and historical analyses. This article offers an alternative and critical perspective that draws attention to the heterogeneity of historical events and strategies that have left their mark on the withdrawing body of the heroin user. It maps changes in the discourse from the 18th century to the present and closes with developments in the neuroscience of addiction, which have relocated withdrawal from the body to the neurocircuitry of the brain and reframed it as a negative emotional state. This new language suggests the future of the discourse of withdrawal might be relatively short. The analysis moves beyond existing understandings of withdrawal as the simple absence of drugs from the body.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 7, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 14, 2016
Publication Date Dec 1, 2016
Deposit Date Sep 15, 2016
Publicly Available Date Sep 15, 2016
Journal Contemporary Drug Problems
Print ISSN 0091-4509
Electronic ISSN 2163-1808
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 43
Issue 4
Pages 381-396
Keywords body, cannabis, genealogy, heroin, history, withdrawal
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Sep 15, 2016


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