Drug use normalization: A systematic and critical mixed-methods review

Sharon R. Sznitman, Danielle S. Taubman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Drug use normalization, which is a process whereby drug use becomes less stigmatized and more accepted as normative behavior, provides a conceptual framework for understanding contemporary drug issues and changes in drug use trends. Through a mixed-methods systematic review of the normalization literature, this article seeks to (a) critically examine how the normalization framework has been applied in empirical research and (b) make recommendations for future research in this area. Method: Twenty quantitative, 26 qualitative, and 4 mixed-methods studies were identified through five electronic databases and reference lists of published studies. Studies were assessed for relevance, study characteristics, quality, and aspects of normalization examined. Results: None of the studies applied the most rigorous research design (experiments) or examined all of the originally proposed normalization dimensions. The most commonly assessed dimension of drug use normalization was “experimentation.” In addition to the original dimensions, the review identified the following new normalization dimensions in the literature: (a) breakdown of demographic boundaries and other risk factors in relation to drug use; (b) de-normalization; (c) drug use as a means to achieve normal goals; and (d) two broad forms of micro-politics associated with managing the stigma of illicit drug use: assimilative and transformational normalization. Conclusions: Further development in normalization theory and methodology promises to provide researchers with a novel framework for improving our understanding of drug use in contemporary society. Specifically, quasi-experimental designs that are currently being made feasible by swift changes in cannabis policy provide researchers with new and improved opportunities to examine normalization processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)700-709
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Alcohol Research Documentation Inc. All right reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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