Sociological Perspective on Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Table of Contents
Alcohol is the drug that is most commonly abused with approximately 80 percent of adults in Aotearoa having used it in the past twelve months. Although majority of New Zealanders enjoy alcohol in moderation, a significant number of people who are entirely or partly dependent on alcohol. The impact and subsequent intervention are dependent on the type of substance taken, its potency, mode of administration (sniffing, injection, eating, smoking, or drinking), amount taken and frequency, the individual characteristics of the user, and the general environment. Whether they are depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, or cannabinoids, drug abuse patterns vary across demographics. The social structure, referring to the different roles, relationships, and domination of social categorization of age, gender, or class, affects the categories of health in general and drug use in particular due to the associated prejudices and discrimination.
Social classes influence health decisions in general and drug use in particular. Different social classes and class-related inequalities characterize every part of the world. The extent of these inequalities varies from one country to another and over time in different countries, reflecting the different magnitudes of socio-economic inequalities or levels of social investments (Najman & Smith, 2000). The people who are lowest in the social classes with poor living standards have a higher risk of serious illnesses and premature death than those in higher social classes (Wilkiinson & Marmot, 2003). The social positions of each individual determines the amount of societal resources available to them, such as employment, education, income, and other material resources (Graham, 2004). The social position consequently affects different factors that the individual is exposed to.
Children and young people are less likely to engage in drug and alcohol use. However, young people who are mistreated or sexually abused in their childhood years have a higher likelihood of starting to use drugs early, drink heavily in their teenage years, and become more drug dependent in their adult years. People who have had traumatic experiences will more than likely turn to drugs to curb their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, this is not to say that the rich are not affected by drug use problems. On the contrary, several studies have revealed that children and young people from affluent families are at a higher risk of using inhalants, cannabis, and tranquilizers to curb anxiety and depression associated with the excessive pressure of achieving emotional and physical disassociation from their parents. Further, material affluence and pursuit for material success may inhibit the development and maintenance of close relationships and supportive networks at the community level thus exposing the individual to the dangers, such as drug use, when such success is not achieved (Luthar, 2004).
Another group that is highly affected by drug abuse is immigrants. Migration causes losses, disruption of life patterns, and exposure to various life stressors. A study conducted on Asians living in New Zealand indicated that the post-migration social, economic, and psychological stressors may cause immigrants to consume drugs with the aim of reducing their feelings of isolation and depression associating with adapting to a new country (Cheung, Nguyen & Yeung, 2014). This is because discrimination, which in most cases leads to social exclusion, exposes an individual to unhealthy behaviours and practices. This makes them more susceptible to use of toxic drugs and other hazardous substances as well as making them easy target markets for legal and illegal drugs and other harmful commodities (Krieger, 2000). Among the young Asians, the confusion and cultural dislocation in a new environment can lead to gravitation towards peer groups where peer pressure may result in drug and alcohol abuse. Those without family support are particularly at a higher risk of being initiated into substance abuse. Their affinity to become substance users is also dependent on the symbolic importance attached to drug and alcohol use as different cultures and subcultures have different meanings and values attached to them (Cagney, 2006). Further, the language barrier and the inability to communicate effectively may prevent them from seeking help from the healthcare system.
It is critical for the society to be concerned with the implications of drug problems. Valuable productivity of its members is hinged on the whether the people are physically, emotionally, and mentally stable. The aim should not be solely minimizing drug and substance abuse, but rather reducing inequalities in distribution of resources. Addressing substance use among a certain disadvantaged group is insufficient as it fails to address the factors that caused the inequality in the first place. For example, poor and disadvantaged people can be addressed through education and employment programs and policies. These programs ought to be at the individual, family, community, and national levels.
Gender differences influence health and wellbeing outcomes. For example women are known to live longer and are more social than men to a great extent. Drug and alcohol use also differ depending on gender. Gender influences are however socially constructed and the subsequent roles, responsibilities, and opportunities. The number of women consuming drugs, particularly alcohol, has been on the rise with Maori and Pacific adults more likely to be drinkers (Alcohol Healthwatch, 2013). Further, young women aged 20-39 years are increasingly becoming drinkers than other ages. This excludes female secondary school students whose number of alcohol consumers has decreased. Social classes are also influential in this respect. Women from lower socio-economic classes are twice more likely to be drinkers than their counterparts who are more affluent.
For both men and women who are married who are married, alcohol and drug consumption is less and they have fewer drug-related negative consequences when compared to their single counterparts. This is known as the marriage effect phenomenon (Meiklejohn, Connor & Kypri, 2012). They also exhibit a general better health status in other areas other than substance use. Many theories have been advanced to explain this phenomenon, for example, the social control theory posits that one partner tries to control the behaviours and choices of the other partner with the aim of maintaining the partner’s health status. Substance and alcohol consumption patterns are also instrumental in partner selection, in the assortative mating theory, where a person that has a drug use problem is more likely to get married to another person that has a similar problem than a non-user.
Despite heavy government expenditure on prevention of drug consumption, drug use and the related problems have continued to increase over the last years. Drugs and alcohol consumption compounds existing inequalities and other underlying factors. Of great significance, is the society identifying and dealing with the factors leading to drug and alcohol abuse rather than merely minimizing the drug-related problems.
- Alcohol Healthwatch. (2013). Women and alcohol in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Women Health. Retrieved from http://www.womens-health.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/WomenAndAlcoholBriefingPolicy_web.pdf
- Cagney, P. (2006). A Healthy drinking culture: A search and review of international and New Zealand literature (final report). HPA. Retrieved from https://www.hpa.org.nz/sites/default/files/imported/field_research_publication_file/Report_on_NZ_drinking_culture.pdf.
- Cheung, V. Y., Nguyen, J., & Yeung, P. H., (2014). Alcohol and drugs in New Zealand: an Asian perspective: a background paper. ALAC Occasional Paper No.22.
- Graham, H. (2004). Social determinants and their unequal distribution: clarifying policy understandings. Milbank Quarterly, 82 (1),101-124.
- Krieger, N. (2000). Discrimination and health. In: Berkman L. F. & Kawachi, I., eds. Social epidemiology. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Luthar, S. S. (2003). The culture of affluence: psychological costs of material wealth. Child Development, 74 (6), 1581-1593.
- Meiklejohn, J., Connor, J. L., & Kypri, K. (2012). Drinking concordance and relationship satisfaction in New Zealand couples. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 47 (5), 606-611.
- Najman, J. M., & Smith, G. D. (2000). The embodiment of class-related and health inequalities: New Zealand. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 24 (1), 3-4.
- Spooner, C., & Hetherington, K. (2004). Social determinants of drug use. Technical Report, Number 228.
- Wilkiinson, R., & Marmot, M. (2003). The solid facts: social determinants of health. Copenhagen: Centre for Urban Health, World Health Organization.