The development of patterns of cocaine use II. Follow-up study after 10 years of 111 experienced crack and cocaine users in Antwerp (Belgium)

Research Period

1 February 2008 - 31 October 2009




Marjolein MUYS

Key Words

Experienced cocaine and crack users, informal control mechanisms, dynamic patterns of drug use, ethnographic follow-up design


The Original Study and First Follow-Up

From January 1st 1996 to December 31st 1998 the National Fund for Scientific Research supplied a grant for a research project titled 'Cocaine and crack use in Antwerp: a criminological and ethnographic study of informal control mechanisms in deviant and non-deviant subcultures' (grant No. G.0197-96).

From January 1st 2002 to December 31st 2004 the National Fund for Scientific Re-search supplied a grant for a follow-up study of this project

Aim of the Second Follow-Up

The aim of this new research is to have a follow-up study of the original sample of 111 experienced cocaine users. As in the original study and the follow-up we want to gain more insight in the perception and self-understanding of cocaine users, and to comprehend their behaviour from 'the native's point of view'. We want to describe a sample of cocaine users from within their culture rather than from outside it, and to present their world as they see it. This research project will study different drug subcultures and their subjective interpretation systems in order to clarify possible confusions of tongue between policy makers, police and treatment actors and drug users themselves. Secondly, we want to gather more data on informal mechanisms and forms of self-control that are developed and adapted by drug users to reduce drug-related harms. How extensive is the users' knowledge and user lore regarding the use of the so-called 'hard' drug cocaine, and what lessons can be drawn from it for potential harm reduction efforts? And thirdly, we want to gain more insight in the nature and prevalence of cocaine use in different layers and subgroups of the general population.

The most important aim (and added scientific value) of this follow-up project is to study the development of patterns of use among the original respondents since they were interviewed at the end of 1996 or the beginning of 1997. In 2002-2003 these respondents will have been using for 11 years (average), in 2007-2008 16 years (average). The study clearly has a longitudinal character. More specifically we want to know whether some of the respondents from the original study have developed patterns of problema-tical drug use, and if so, which problems were experienced by which proportion of the sample. It is possible that the degree of self-control the 111 experienced cocaine users in Antwerp have demonstrated in the 1996-1997 study, has changed (or diminished) under the influence of a much longer exposure to cocaine.

We are also interested in asking test-retest questions regarding the use of cocaine and other drugs by the respondents. Those questions could teach us something about the reliability of self-report data, a theme that recurrently gets attention in the drug literature

Aim of a New User Study

Next to the second follow-up study we will also compose a sample among the new generation of users. People who have started cocaine use from 2000 and who have consumed 10 times at the least will be interviewed. By doing so, the patterns of cocaine use among this new cohort can be compared to those in the original study.


The researcher makes use of participant observation in the Antwerp nightlife scene to re-establish contacts with key-informants and former respondents, and to prepare the more formal interview situation. This open-focus ethnographic method does not only serve to resuscitate confidential relationships with former respondents, but also to gain more insight in the self-understanding of drug users.

Other respondents are being retraced using the chain referrals that were realized in the original study. Every retraced respondent is interviewed with a slightly modified questionnaire (compared to the one used in the original study). The questionnaire is set up in such a way that comparison with other cocaine studies is feasible to a certain extent.

Valorisation: publications and lectures

  • DECORTE, T. & MUYS, M. (2010). Tipping the balance. A longitudinal study of perceived ‘pleasures’ and ‘pains’ of cocaine use (1997-2009) (pp.35-54). In DECORTE, T. & FOUNTAIN, J. (eds.), Pleasure, pain and profit. European Perspectives on Drugs. Lengerich: Pabst Science Publishers. (ISBN 978-3-89967-654-9).
  • DECORTE, T. (2010), Come si diventa un consumatore controllato (pp.191-220). In ZUFFA, G. (ed.), Cocaina. Il consumo controllato. Turin: Edizione Gruppo Abele. (ISBN 978-88-6579-00-21).
  • DECORTE, T. (2010), Les effets adverses des politiques officielles en matière de drogue sur les mécanismes d’autorégulation des consommateurs de drogues illicites, Drogues, Santé et Société, 9(1), 295-334.
  • DECORTE, T. (2010), Natural cocaine stories. A twelve-year follow-up study of 56 Belgian cocaine users. Presentation at the 10th International Conference of the European Society of Criminology, Liège (Belgium), 9-10 September 2010.
  • DECORTE, T. (2009), 'Le insidie del farmacocentrismo. Riflessioni sull’efficacia dei meccanismi autoregolatori nei consumatori di sostanze per uso voluttuario', Paper presented at the ASL Napoli en Faculty of Sociology, University of Napoli Frederico II, Napoli (Italië), 19 november 2009. (invited speaker)
  • MUYS, M. & DECORTE, T. (2008). Becoming a controlled cocaine user. Paper presented at the Seminario estivo, Laboratorio di lettura critica delle teorie e delle pratiche di intervento in materia di consumo di cocaina, Firenze (Italië), 29 augustus 2008.