Care of the Self, Somaestethics and Drug Addiction: An Exploration on Approaching and Treating Problem Drug Use


  • Riikka Perala Finnish Association of Substance Use Prevention



Can a person use dangerous substances and still take care oneself and be healthy? Is it right to give people directions and tools for using substances, which, in the worst case, could be lethal to them? This article provides empirical examples of practices and policies designed to offer those who inject drugs opportunities and methods for taking care of themselves and, thus, the chance to lead a more balanced life, in spite of it all. Images of problem drug use have traditionally been associated with despair and devastating marginalization. Harm-reduction policies, initiated in the 1980s to combat the spread of HIV and other blood-borne viruses among drug users, raised the issue of drug use in the context of health and healthcare, and gave users new ways to think about themselves. Critics refer to this development as “biopower,” in which drug users have become “docile bodies,” who are expected to follow safe injecting practices and other such procedures under the surveillance of healthcare professionals. However, the users themselves have been more positive and consider harm-reduction policies not only as life saving, but life altering. This article touches on different aspects of harm-reduction policies in the context of the Foucauldian discussion of “care of the self.” A somaesthetic framework is applied to understanding harm reduction as a set of practices in which helping drug users goes through their body and not through their will, as in traditional approaches to addiction. Focusing on the body provides users with new ways of thinking about their existence and relationships with themselves and others.