Symbolic perceptions of methamphetamine: Differentiating between ice and shake

Academic Article


  • Background Although public perceptions of methamphetamine (meth) consider all forms of the drug as the same, this is not true among those who use it. Our aim is to examine how those who use meth perceive two forms of meth (ice and shake) using the theoretical framework of symbolic boundaries. Methods We rely on data collected from a photo-ethnography with people who use methamphetamine in rural Alabama. The ethnography consisted of formal interviews (with 52 participants), informal observations, and photography. Results Participants had a strong preference for ice (49 of 52 preferred ice over shake). In discussing why they prefer ice they point to the various short- and long-term health problems associated with shake. This distinction allowed them to create symbolic definitions of shake as being dirty due to impure chemicals and its users as desperate. Conclusion We argue that this symbolic differentiation of the two forms allows users to frame themselves as rational users (i.e., they avoid the unsafe form of meth) and shape use patterns and prevalence, with shake being used infrequently and often intravenously.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Copes H; Tchoula W; Kim J; Ragland J
  • Start Page

  • 87
  • End Page

  • 94
  • Volume

  • 51