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What's in a name?: Alcohol and drug treatment and the politics of confusion
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD).
2009 (English)In: Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, ISSN 1455-0725, Vol. 26, no 4, 339-353 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]


The aim of this article is to investigate the use of a rather vague medical conceptual framework within the compulsory treatment of alcohol and drug users in Sweden during the 20th century. Focus lies on exploring how a phenomenon come to be described as pathological, what the causes are for certain actions all of a sudden being interpreted in medical terms, and what consequences that might lead to.


Supported by theoretical speculations on medicalization processes and conceptual history, two empirical cases (the compulsory care of alcohol abusers in the 1950’s and the legislative process leading to psychiatric compulsory care of drug users in the late 1960’s) are investigated. The first case draws mainly upon official reports and archive material from alcohol treatment institutions, whilst the second case is built from reading official reports and parliamentary material. The research task for the two empirical cases has not quite been the same: whereas the first case is illustrated by the discrepancies between the labelling of treatment activities and the treatment actually carried out, the second case rather draws upon the enlargement of the field of signification of the disease concept to cover most aspects of drug use.


A medicalization process on different levels is traced both in the post-war compulsory treatment of alcohol abusers as well as being a part of the launching of compulsory psychiatric care of drug abusers from the late 1960’s onwards.


The investigated cases shows how the medicalization processes gained from a conceptual vagueness, a widening of the conceptual dimensions of both the treatment and disease concepts. In this, the medicalization of alcohol abuse in the 1950’s and drug abuse in the 1960’s made way for a paternalistic justification of compulsory care measures that might otherwise have become politically troublesome.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Helsinki: National Institute for Health and Welfare (Finland) & Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues , 2009. Vol. 26, no 4, 339-353 p.
Keyword [en]
Compulsory care, alcohol abusers, drug abusers, medicalizaltion, conceptual history, key concepts, basic concepts, fat words, paternalism, history, 20th century, Sweden
National Category
History History of Ideas History Nursing Social Work
Research subject
History; History Of Sciences and Ideas; Legal History; Social Work
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-30082OAI: diva2:241264
Vad är vård? Den svenska narkomanvården som politiskt slagfält, 1968-2000Berondevårdens politik och begreppsliggörandets dynamik. Benämningar på problematisk drickande och drogbruk i Finland och Sverige 1911-2011
Available from: 2009-10-01 Created: 2009-10-01 Last updated: 2010-01-15Bibliographically approved

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Edman, Johan
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