Years of study have shown that addiction, once thought to be caused by degeneration of morals and self-control, is as much a disease as diabetes and depression.
Current and ongoing research has even identified genetic markers that make certain people predisposed for substance abuse disorders.
However, while addiction can be physiological in origin, the fact remains that there are also many cultural and social factors that cause and cultivate addiction in many. The following are five socio-cultural factors that put people at risk for addiction.
The Bonding Experience
Especially among contemporary youths, many individuals struggle to relate to peers. The stress of socializing can be a major reason why individuals turn to intoxicants as a means of curbing social anxiety.
Alcohol, sometimes called the “social lubricant,” has been used this way since wine was first produced in the late Neolithic Period (circa 10,000 B.C.). It is now commonplace for groups of friends to plan social gatherings around the presence of alcohol, such as meeting for happy hour at a favorite bar. Being under the influence of alcohol makes peer interaction much easier; people feel more confident, are quicker to crack jokes and speak up, feel less self-conscious, and worry less about rejection.
There is a downside to being so socially uninhibited. People who are intoxicated can become loud and obnoxious, offensive, and are sometimes difficult to handle.
Similarly, marijuana has the effect of relaxing and mellowing users in a social setting, but at the risk of increased paranoia, pronounced lethargy, and the tendency to get lost in one’s own thoughts.
Relief from Stress
Another common reason people overindulge is for the sense of relief from the stresses of daily life. Have you ever heard someone say that their drug of choice is “an outlet” or their means of temporarily “escaping reality”? This typical, yet harmful, justification of frequent intoxication is common and frequently a precursor to full-blown addiction.
Those who feel overwhelmed by the amount of stress experienced on a day-to-day basis have a plethora of healthy alternatives to manage stress. Meditation, guided breathing exercises, and yoga are relaxing and teach awareness of the state of your body and its processes, both physical and emotional. In fact, meditation and so-called mindfulness exercises have shown that traits believed to be immutable, such as addiction, can be positively and significantly improved.
Additionally, many find counseling and stress-management programs to be the most effective.
Sense of Community
The primary contributor—by a large margin—for use of narcotics such as cocaine and heroin are peer group characteristics, followed distantly by adverse familiar conditions and individual social circumstances (such as homelessness).Another social factor that contributes to addiction is the tendency for drug and alcohol abuse to promote group solidarity and feelings of community and belonging. In particular, the primary contributor—by a large margin—for use of narcotics such as cocaine and heroin are peer group characteristics, followed distantly by adverse familiar conditions and individual social circumstances (such as homelessness).
Although social influence is among the most consistent factor for substance abuse, especially among adolescents, it is important to foster healthy, positive relationships with cohorts. Additionally, there is growing research on the ability of positive peer groups to aid in addiction recovery. This is due to the fact that impressionable individuals are more likely to take advice from others perceived as being similar to them with comparable backgrounds and interests.
The Allure of Rebelling
Studies suggest that substance abuse can be the platform from which adolescents derive a sense of identity. One of the most effective treatments to satisfy the desire to rebel is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).The abuse of alcohol and drugs, by nature, creates the sense that one is rebelling against the norms and expectations of society. Adolescents in particular will turn to substance abuse as a way to “act out” against authority and the limitations imposed on them both at school and at home.
In fact, studies suggest that substance abuse can be the platform from which adolescents derive a sense of identity. One of the most effective treatments to satisfy the desire to rebel is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). This form of therapy promotes what is called Alternate Rebellion. The individual makes a list of activities that could be enjoyed for fun or because they might break a social “rule,” then he or she chooses activities, one by one, until one is found that satisfies the urge to be naughty without being harmful.
Sometimes individuals find the lifestyle of the substance abuser to be appealing, perhaps even glamorous. Observers will notice the way a community of substance abusers dress, the music they listen to, what they do for fun, their attitude toward structure and responsibility, and find this lifestyle appealing.
But the casual onlooker who may be enticed by the novelty of such a lifestyle may fail to see the negative aspects. A survey taken by a vocational placement facility in the Midwest states that oftentimes an addict’s work history will show frequent job changes, steadily declining salary, unstable relationships and family disruptions, and a pattern of absences on Mondays.
In tandem with biological contributors, social and cultural factors can be highly influential in prompting a substance abuse disorder. Despite these environmental components that seem to nurture addiction, there are many healthy alternatives that can meet one’s need for acceptance, belonging, relief from stress, and self-actualization.