Social science research on polydrug use among young adult college students is scant, adopts definitions of this practice that are often devoid of sociocultural context, and emphasizes a very narrow range of use patterns. This article, based on ethnographic interviews from a study of collegiate prescription drug misuse, expands this focus by offering a cultural analysis of polydrug use. Two specific types of collegiate polydrug use, simultaneous interaction and sequential management, are examined within a cultural framework that relates these practices to the expression of two complementary values—control and release. The college experience provides young people with a culturally sanctioned “time-out” period that affords freedom from many of the roles, responsibilities, and other constraints that come to structure later adult life. At the same time, college students are expected to meet academic and social demands that require organization, initiative, and direction. Specific types of polydrug use provide young adults with a means to navigate these competing prescriptions that are characteristic of contemporary college life.
- Polydrug use