Gender sameness and difference in recovery from heroin dependence: A qualitative exploration

Joanne Neale*, Sarah Nettleton, Lucy Pickering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In recent years, 'recovery' has become a central, yet controversial, concept within the international drug and alcohol field. This paper explores gender sameness and difference in recovery from heroin dependence with reference to gender theory, the existing literature on women and drugs, and the concept of recovery capital. Methods: Data were generated from 77 qualitative interviews conducted with 40 current or ex-heroin users (21 men and 19 women). Coded data were analysed using framework and key themes were mapped onto the four components of recovery capital: social capital, physical capital, human capital, and cultural capital. Differences between the views and experiences of male and female participants were then explored. Results: Participants had limited social, physical and human capital but greater cultural resources. Although women reported more physical and sexual abuse than the men, they had better family and social relationships and more access to informal support, including material assistance and housing. Women also seemed to be better at managing money and more concerned with their physical appearance. Despite the salience of gender, individuals had diverse recovery resources that reflected a complex mix of intrapersonal, interpersonal and structural factors. Conclusions: Findings are consistent with increasing feminist interest in intersectionality and contribute to a more gender-sensitive understanding of recovery. Gender was an important structure in shaping our participants' experiences, but there was no evidence of an 'essential' female recovery experience and women did not necessarily have less recovery resources than men. Whilst useful, the concept of recovery capital has a number of definitional and conceptual limitations that indicate a need for more empirical research to improve its utility in policy and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-12
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • Gender
  • Heroin use
  • Qualitative
  • Recovery
  • Recovery capital
  • Theory

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