Social and Psychological Aspects of Drug Abuse

As children grow into adolescents and then into adults, reality confronts with increasingly more complex challenges at each succeeding step of development. The range of thought, knowledge, decision making required at the age of twelve is greater than that required at the age of five; the range required at twenty is greater than at twelve. At each stage, the responsibility required of a person involves both cognition and evaluation. People have to acquire knowledge of facts, and pass value judgments and choose goals.

Sometimes though, during particular stages of one’s life, especially adolescence, people tend to experiment and become drug users. This can take the form of drug abuse,

alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes or extended to marijuana, cocaine or hard drugs. A special concern involves adolescents using drugs as a way of coping with stress, which can interfere with the development of competent coping skills and responsible decision making. For instance, some experts contend that drug use in childhood or early adolescence has more deleterious long-term effects especially on the development of mature and competent behavior than drug use that occurs in late adolescence. (Newcomb & Bentler, 1989). This results in the inability to cope well with stress such that they frequently enter adult roles of marriage and work at an early stage than necessary and often without the right skills and socioemotional growth.

Author Robbins posits that social pressures are key factors that play a critical role in shaping behavior especially the behavior of youth. He called this the Social Influence Model (SIM) or the Peer Influence Model. This is tasked to strengthen the students’ awareness of and resistance to the external pressures used by friends, family and the media in order to cope well with the corresponding low self-esteem that triggers them to resort in the use of drugs when challenged with problems (Norem-Hebeisen, 1983; Pentz, 1990; Benard, 1990). The SIM approach is powerful when used by the peer leaders where students are facilitated to discuss social situations where their behavioral choices are challenged (Ellickson, 1990; Perry, 1986; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989 as cited in Social Influence Model and Drug Abuse Prevention). This is a good way of processing the youth’s feelings and thoughts because it gives vent to their frustrations and anger which is properly channeled instead of resorting to drugs. Thus, it can be reiterated that parents, peers and social support play important roles in preventing adolescent drug abuse. Another developmental model of adolescent drug abuse was proposed by Judith Brook and her colleagues (1990). They affirm that the first few steps in the use of drugs in adolescents can be traced to the years when they were children especially those who receive little nurturance from their parents as they were growing up. This lack of parental ties is carried into adolescence and later becomes the source of conflict in these families. The adolescents’ violent feelings are then expressed to their peers who take drugs, making them potential drug users themselves.

It seems a natural recourse for some young people to resort to drug abuse when confronted with stresses. If one is under stress, then he or she is more likely to resort to substance abuse even after long periods of abstinence (Stressful Events can Influence Drug, Alcohol Use). Several concerned agencies have put up concerted efforts in order to prevent this. Part of this is the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) which has issued a Community Alert Bulletin to show the public more information of present studies on stress and its relationship to drug or substance abuse. An example is the disorder known as the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This can occur when people are exposed to severe traumatic event such as the terrorist attacks. It is said that PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that triggers the proliferation of drug abuse. (Stressful Events can Influence Drug, Alcohol Use).          Thus, it is important that positive relationships with parents are maintained so that adolescents’ drug use can be reduced (Myers, Wagner & Brown, 1997). Moreover, social support (such as good relationships with parents, siblings, adults, and peers) during adolescence can substantially reduce drug abuse (Newcomb & Bentler, 1989). In another study, adolescents were seen to take drugs when both parents took drugs themselves (such as tranquilizers, amphetamines, alcohol or nicotine) (Kandel, 1974).

In a review of the role that schools can play in the prevention of drug abuse, Joy Dryfoos (1990) concluded that a consensus is beginning to be reached. The early intervention in schools is believed to be more effective than later intervention. This works best when done before the onset of drug use. It is often mentioned that Middle school is an excellent time for drug-abuse programs to be integrated in schools activities.

Today, a concerted effort is being done to control the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. There is mounting evidence of a significant association between substance abuse and criminality. For example, research indicates that about 75% of all arrestees test positively for some drug use. (Drug Use Forecasting). At present there is evidence that both drugs and crime are part of a deviant lifestyle, characterized by substance abuse, criminality, and other deviant, antisocial behaviors (Altschuler & Brounstein, 1991).

Much still has to be done. Despite the massive effort to control drug usage through both crime control and rehabilitation strategies, the fight has not been successful. Getting people out of the drug trade is difficult, because drug trafficking offers enormous profits and dealers and users both lack meaningful economic alternatives.

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