Informal control mechanisms among cocaine and crack users in the metropolitan area of Antwerp (Belgium)

Research Period

1 January 1996 - 31 December 1998


Fund for Scientific Research


Prof. dr. Tom DECORTE    

Key Words

cocaine, crack, ethnography, self control, Antwerp


Part of the initial impetus for this study was the observation that drug epidemiology in Belgium is scarcely out of its infancy. Official statistics, population surveys, and utilization studies, are useful indicators of drug use, but they are often biased, partial, and focused on the best known, most visible, accessible, and perhaps most marginalized subgroups of drug users. We wanted to make an original contribution to the field of drug epidemiology by describing a sample of cocaine users from within their culture rather than from outside, and to present their world as they see it (the insider's view).

This study is based on longitudinal ethnographic fieldwork (1996-1999) in the Antwerp nightlife scene and repeated in-depth interviews with a sample of 111 experienced cocaine users. From 1996 to 1999 an ethnographic study of which the general focus was informal control mechanisms or self-regulation by illegal drug users was carried out in Antwerp (Belgium). Through snowball sampling and participant observation were recruited in the Antwerp nightlife scene.

The overall theme of this research is the genesis and the development of informal control mechanisms or self-regulation by illicit drug users (social sanctions and rituals). In order to understand how and why certain users have lost control over the drug or drugs they are using, we tackled the all-important question of how and why many others manage to achieve control and maintain it.

The Belgian data are compared consistently to the findings of other comparable community studies in European and American cities - Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Turin, San Francisco, Toronto - and in Scotland and Australia.

Valorisation: publications and lectures

The full report containing all relevant empirical data, was published as:

DECORTE, T. (2000). The taming of cocaine. Cocaine use in European and American cities. Brussel: VUB University Press. (ISBN: 90 5487 284 5)

Syntheses van de empirische resultaten aangevuld met reflecties vindt men in:

DECORTE, T. (2003), Drogues et self-control: l'impact d'une politique répressive formelle sur les processus spontanés d'autorégulation (pp.277-297). In KAMINSKI, D. (ed.), L'usage pénal des drogues. Collection Perspectives Criminologiques. Bruxelles : Editions De Boeck Université (ISBN 2-8041-4263-9)

DECORTE, T. (2002), Mécanismes d'autorégulation chez les consommateurs de drogues illégales. Etude ethnographique sur des consommateurs de cocaïne et de crack à Anvers (Belgique) (pp. 35-62). In FAUGERON, C. & KOKOREFF, M., Société avec drogues. Enjeux et limites. Ramonville-Ste-Agne: Edition Erès. (ISBN 2-86586-996-2)
DECORTE, T. (2000), Informele controlemechanismen bij cocaïne en crackgebruikers in het grootstedelijk gebied Antwerpen, VAD-Berichten, 1, 2000, 16-19.

Een bespreking van enkele specifieke onderzoeksresultaten vindt men in:

DECORTE, T. (2001), Drug users' perceptions of 'controlled' and 'uncontrolled' use. The International Journal of Drug Policy, 12(4), 297-320.
DECORTE, T. (2001). Quality control by cocaine users: underdeveloped harm reduction strategies. European Addiction Research, 7(4), 161-175.
DECORTE, T. (1999), Ethnographic notes: informal rules about the combination of cocaine with other drugs (pp.25-46). In ENGEMANN, S. & SCHNEIDER, W. (eds.), The times they are a-changin'. Internationaler Kongreß über neue und aktuelle Ansätze akzeptierender Drogenarbeit und Drogenpolitik. Studien zur qualitativen Drogenforschung und akzeptierenden Drogenarbeit, Band 22. Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung. (Verslagboek van het Internationaal congres over innovatie van drugspreventie, verslavingszorg en drugsbeleid, 18-20 juni 1998, (Musa sacris) Arnhem (NL), Trimbosinstituut).

Methodologische en ethische aspecten van het onderzoek worden besproken in:

DECORTE, T. (2003), In het spoor van Malinowski. Cocaïne onder controle. Participerende observatie bij cocaïne- en crackgebruikers in Antwerpen, Kwalon, 8(3), 12-16.
DECORTE, T. (2000), A qualitative study of cocaine and crack use in Antwerp, Belgium: some ethical issues (pp.285-290). In EMCDDA. (ed.), Understanding and responding to drug use: the role of qualitative research, EMCDDA Scientific Monograph Series No. 4. Lisbon: EMCDDA.

Lezingen over dit onderzoek:

DECORTE, T., The combined use of cocaine and other drugs. Presentation at the 12th ESSD Conference, Venice (Italië), 4-6th October 2001.
DECORTE, T., Informele zelfregulering bij illegale druggebruikers. Presentation at the Studiedag 'Gecontroleerd gebruik als middenweg' Brussels overlegplatform Middelengebruik, Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, 27 januari 2000.
DECORTE, T., Drug users' perceptions of 'controlled' and 'uncontrolled' use. Presentation at the 11th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, Jersey (UK), 9th-13th April 2000.
DECORTE, T., Crack use in Antwerp: facts and myths among users. Presentation at the 11th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, Jersey (UK), 9th-13th April 2000.
DECORTE, T., Cocaïne et crack à Anvers: l'apport de la recherche ethnographique sur la prévention des drogues. Presentation at the 1ère Session Européenne d'études 1999, 2eme séminaire: Drogues et Europe, Lille (F), Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Sécurité Intérieure, 2-5 maart 1999.
DECORTE, T., Informele zelfregulering met betrekking tot polydruggebruik. Paper presented at the 9de Forum Alcohol- en Drugsonderzoek (FADO), Trimbos-Instituut Utrecht (Nederland), 4 november 1999.
DECORTE, T., Recreatief druggebruik in dancings. Presentation at Vormingsdag V.L.A.S.T.R.O.V., Gent, 13 juni 1997.
DECORTE, T. (1996), Informele regulering door druggebruikers (pp. 38-45). In VAD-Free CLinic-NIAD, Peer support en peer education: een methodiek voor AIDS-preventie naar injecterende druggebruikers. Brussel: VAD-Free CLinic-NIAD.
DECORTE, T. (1996), Cocaine and crack in Antwerp (Belgium): theoretical background and methodological problems. Presentation at the Second EASAR-Conference, Zürichberg Hotel, Zürich (Zwitserland), 23-25 mei 1996.
DECORTE, T., Informal harm reduction by drug users. Paper presented at the 6th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, Firenze (Italië), 26-30 maart 1995.
DECORTE, T., Informele regulering door druggebruikers. Presentation at Studiedag 'Peer support en peer education: een methodiek voor aidspreventie naar injecterende druggebruikers', Alfa Hotel Antwerpen, Free Clinic, 7-8 november 1995.