The recreational/dependent drug use dichotomy has very quickly become the established wisdom within drugs literature. The paper uses the concept of ‘drug career’ to demonstrate that this bipolar distinction is problematic. The research it reports suggests that, alongside ‘recreational drug use’ and ‘dependent drug use’, a third form or ‘episode’ of drug use can be observed: what we call here ‘persistent drug use’. Following this exploration of drug careers, the article examines the interaction between drug use and crime. It is purported that a simple unilateral causal explanation is overly simplistic as the relationship is not consistent throughout the career of a drug user and through the qualitative exploration of drug careers the nuances of this relationship are identified. It is therefore suggested that both classifications of drugs and the relationship between drug use and crime are products of local social contexts and environments.