When we think of a drug user, we tend to think of someone who uses illicit drugs like; marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and methamphetamines. However, according to the FDA, a drug is “A substance (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body. (“[email protected] Glossary of Terms”, 2018)”. This means that Tylenol, birth control, blood pressure medication and other pills are considered drugs and anyone who uses them can be considered a drug user.
Drug abuse is defined as “the use of chemical substances that lead to an increased risk of problems and an inability to control the use of the substance. (“Drug And Substance Abuse > Aging & Health A To Z > Health in Aging”, 2018)”. This means that the use of any drug, legal or not, including; alcohol, and tobacco can be abused and become an addiction.
According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” They define addiction as a brain disease because “drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors. (“The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics”, 2018)”
With these three definitions we can conclude that drug addiction is the excessive use of any chemical substance that impairs the bodies functions. In the following we will discuss how drug abuse and drug addiction have impacted society over the last 50 years. We will also, look at four sociological concepts; gender, race/ethnicity, education, and religiosity, and their relation to drug users and drug addiction. As well as look at, symbolic interaction’s theory of drug addiction. We will also discuss, my own views on the actions society can take to help ease the strain of addiction.
Drugs have been around for centuries, mead was first used around 8000BCE, beer and wines were used around 6000 BCE, opium, cannabis, and cocaine have been used since 2000-5000 BCE and are still very popular drugs today. Every society on earth has a form of drug use and drug abuse, it is nearly unavoidable. The first settlers in the United States, grew tobacco for local use and export for profits. (Barkan S.E, 2017) Over the last 50 years, drug abuse has both declined as well as increased, specific drugs have stabilized in use and others have increased. This trend is seen in the 2013 NSDUH survey, approximately 67,800 Americans responded to this survey. The results of the NSDHU’s survey revealed that approximately 24.6 million Americans over the age of 12 had used an illicit drug in the past month, marijuana use has increased 5.8 percent, methamphetamine use has increased from 353,000 in 2010 to 595,000 in 2013, while cocaine use has declined from 2.4 million users to around 1.5 million users. (“The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics”, 2018).
In 2013, 2.8 million Americans admitted to using an illicit drug, and indicated what drug that initiated their addiction. In the chart above, we can see that 70.3% of drug users started with marijuana, 12.5% started with prescription pain killers, 6.3% started with inhalants, 5.2% started with tranquilizers, and the remaining 5.6% started by using stimulants, hallucinogens, sedatives
and cocaine. With these numbers we can conclude that marijuana and prescription drugs are the most common “gateway” drug. Drug use is higher in people in their late teens and early twenties, this is most likely due to the party scene that is sweeping the nation, and the portrayal of drug use in main stream media, however we will discuss this later. (“The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics”, 2018)
Drug addiction is defined as a disease and like all disease it can affect anyone, no matter the sex, race, education, or religion. There are, however, some traits that a person may have that makes them more susceptible to addiction. Studies have shown that men are more likely than females to use drugs and alcohol, this can be seen the following graph:
It is suspected that men are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, because they are raised to be more assertive and have less concern for the consequences of their actions. Crime rates are also higher among men than women, and the majority of violent crimes are conducted by drug users.
Chronic drug users also tend to have impulsive and sensation- seeking personality traits, however, it is unclear if these traits are a cause of drug use or an effect of drug use. In a 2010, research study, 5 researchers gathered a group of stimulant-dependent individuals and their biological siblings who did not have a history of drug use. The study also, gathered 30 unrelated, nondrug- users as a control model. This study asked the participants to self-report their levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking behavior. The results showed that siblings of drug users reported higher levels of impulsivity, than the control group, while the stimulant-dependent users reported higher levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking behavior compared to both their siblings and the control group. (Ersche, Turton, Pradhan, Bullmore & Robbins, 2010)
From the results of this study and the sociological concept of gender in drug addiction, we can see that young men between the ages of 16-25 are at highest risk of using drugs, and that risk becomes higher if they have a close relative who is or was an addict. These men, and even women, tend to have higher levels of impulsivity and find it hard to turn down new things.
On the other hand, women are more likely to use prescription pain killers. This is thought to be because women are prescribed more drugs than men, when going to the doctor. This may be due in part to the idea of masculinity, where if a man is in pain he can just “tough it out”, but women are seen as frail and need more support through medical professionals.
In the media today, we tend to think of drug users as violent African-Americans, but that is not entirely true. Yes, African-American’s do use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; however, so do whites, Native Americans, Asians and every other race and ethnicity. White men have the highest rate of alcohol abuse, while Native Americans have the highest rate of tobacco use. We see these differences, mostly due to how each race and society was raised. According to Social Problems: Continuity and Change, whites and African-Americans have approximately the same rate of illegal drug use, but whites have higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use.
Racism has always played a large role in the way that we see illicit drugs. In the early 20th century, as noted before, cocaine and opioids, were used by nearly everyone, and endorsed by some of the greatest scientific minds of the era, for example: Sigmund Freud. Cocaine was advertised as a sweetener, an anesthetic, and an aphrodisiac; however, as the dangerous effects of cocaine become undeniable the people wanted a “scapegoat”, someone to blame for the use of cocaine. At the time, the only people who could be targeted were newly freed slaves. This set the stage for the picture we see today when someone talks about drug addiction. The New York Times, published an article in 1914 that was titled “Negro Cocaine Fiend” which demoralized African-Americans and blamed the race for the effects of cocaine. This article went on to blame African-Americans use of cocaine for a rise in crime, especially toward white women. Even though race and ethnicity have no bearing on the effects of cocaine, or any other drug. However, the damage from this article had already been done, and we are still seeing the effects of it today.
Now, today we still view African-Americans as dangerous drug addicts, this is seen in the high rate of African American arrests. In 2013, African-Americans and Hispanics made up 29% of the American population, however, in prison they make up 75% of the inmate population. In 2012, the US Sentencing Commission, stated that African-American and Hispanics, get longer sentences for drug related offenses compared to whites with the same offenses. (Centers, 2018)
With these statistics, we can see that Whites have the highest rate of overall addiction, and white men tend to be at the forefront of that. However, white men also have the lowest rates of conviction for drug related offenses. This is because of the history of the war on drugs, whites have continued to blame other races, specifically Hispanics and African-Americans, causing an educational gap about drugs. The more that whites try to hide and blame other races for their own drug use and the consequences of those actions, the more we will find ourselves in an endless cycle of addiction.
“Just Say No.” The slogan has been engrained into the minds of every child born in the 80’s and 90’s. In the early 80’s the United States started to focus on making young children aware of drugs and the consequences drug addiction has. The most notable program being, D.A.R.E, Drug Abuse Resistance Education. D.A.R.E was founded in the 80’s when the Los Angeles Police department realized that enforcement alone was not going to curtail drug abuse. So, they decided to partner with the Los Angles School District to create a program to educate school-aged children the dangers of drug use.
D.A.R.E has had some major successes but has also had some setbacks and failures. In the 80’s it started as a city program for elementary students in Los Angeles School District, and successfully grew into a nationwide project. However, they had some major setbacks, their original curriculum was a non-interactive monologue type presentation given by a police officer, the teachers had no training or very little knowledge of the curriculum at the time. As the program began to grow, it was put under a microscope and examined for its effectiveness. In the 90’s, D.A.R.E partnered with medical professionals and scientists to create a more interactive lesson set that reached all scopes of drug abuse and addiction. As the 2000’s rolled in, they added more drugs into their lesson set to keep up with the changing times. (“D.A.R.E. America | Teaching Students Decision-Making for Safe & Healthy Living”, 2018)
Even though we can see the success of the D.A.R.E programs awareness of drugs, it has come under speculation several times for its effectiveness in preventing drug use. In a 2004, meta-analysis of the program, it was found that between a control model and a group of students who completed a D.A.R.E program there was only about a 0.11% change in the chance of drug use. It was also said that the D.A.R.E program gave young children a wider knowledge of drugs and as they aged became more experimental and ultimately become hooked on illicit drugs. However, there is no specific evidence of these claims as it is nearly impossible to do a longevity study on the participants of the program. (Steven L. West, 2018)
In recent years, drug awareness programs have been popping up in every city across the United States, however, it is hard to tell if these programs are decreasing or increasing the drug addiction problem. One thing is for sure, though, drug awareness programs give children the knowledge they need to make right choices, but it is ultimately up to the individual if they will use drugs later in life or not. As we discussed before, people with impulse issues are more likely to become addicts therefore, we need programs placed to help young children understand impulses and how to better control their actions.
When applying the social concept of education to drug abuse, we have seen that higher levels of education lead to higher levels of alcohol abuse, and lower levels of education lead to higher levels of tobacco abuse. However, when looking at illicit drugs there is no clear association with level of education and use.
Adolescents are at the highest risk of using drugs and alcohol, as they are at a point in their life where they are going through many social changes and forming their own beliefs, compared to adults; they (adolescents) are more likely to look for a purpose in life. Sometimes that leads them to make poor choices without fully understanding the weight of their actions. During this time of searching, studies have shown that teens who had church involvement were less likely to use drugs at this point in their life. However, that means the opposite is also true, those less involved or not involved at church at all were more likely to use drugs and/or alcohol.
Religiosity means how religious someone is, this includes how involved with their chosen religion. People who value religion and its teachings are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, during this time. However, it is impossible to do a longevity study for the simple fact that people have changing views on religion throughout their lives. A young school aged child may go to church every week and be fully involved, but as an early adult he may not still feel the same. Just as someone in their 30’s may be highly religious at that point in their life, but may lose faith later on, especially if a traumatic event happens.
In a 2001 study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, it was found that 95% of Americans have some sort of religious belief, whether it be God or a higher power. This belief is thought to act as a protective shield by giving security and meaning to a person. (Marsiglia, Kulis, Nieri & Parsai, 2005)
However, even with all the research done, there is very little correlation between religiosity and drug abuse. Having a solid standing in a religious affiliation may help to curb drug addiction, but there is no way to tell if someone will become a drug abuser later in life, or if their faith becomes weak.
Sociological theories try to explain why we have specific social problems, we must use sociological imagination along with these theories to fully grasp the whole concept of a social problem. When sociologist analyze drug abuse and addiction, they can apply the Symbolic Interactionism Theory to explain why drug addiction has become a social problem.
Symbolic Interactionism view social problems as stemming from an individual’s interactions with others and how they interpret these interactions. Therefore, when looking at drug abuse and addiction it looks at it as a behavior that starts with an individual’s interactions with others whom use drugs.
In 1953, Howard Becker published an article titled, “Becoming a Marihuana User”, Becker stated that in order for someone to become a drug user they must first learn 3 important behaviors or perceptions from an experienced user. First, they must learn how to use it, then what the effects of the drug are, and finally they must define the effects as pleasurable or enjoyable. (Barkan S.E, 2017)
In short, symbolic interactionism recognizes that drug abuse is a social problem stemmed from one’s interactions with others who are drug users. However, drug addiction is a social problem solely based off of an individuals own biases. As we saw earlier, there some factors that may help us determine who is at the highest risk of becoming a drug user, and specifically target these groups of people to better educate them about the dangers and consequences of drug abuse and addiction.
Drugs are found everywhere in the world. Marijuana, Cocaine, and Opioids were used for decades as sweeteners, anesthetics, and even aphrodisiacs; when adverse side effects where discovered, personally and socially, from over consumption of these products alone, the American government needed someone to blame for these affects. The government then used newly freed slaves as the “scapegoat” and set the stage for what we now picture when we think of drug abuse and drug addicts.
In today’s society we have seen the long-lasting effects of “scapegoating” the drug abuse issue; from the high levels of African-American and Latino arrests due to drug related offenses, also, the high rate of police involved shootings. Currently, African-Americans and Latinos have the highest conviction rate and longest sentencings for drug related offenses. However, African-Americans Whites, and Latinos all have the same rate of use of illicit drugs.
What should be done to try and curb the drug abuse problem? First, we have to target at risk individuals; young children, poor American’s, young me, individuals with impulse control issues and individuals who have a close relative whom have abused drugs. By targeting these individuals, we can better educate them on the effects and consequences of alcoholism, tobacco use, and illegal drug use.
Next, we have to focus on the group of individuals who are addicts and want to get help but cannot afford it. We must better fund rehab facilities and better educate the workers or hire recovered addicts. When people know that they are not alone in their situation they are more open to listening to the struggles and accomplishments of others.
Then, we must focus on the individuals who are chronic users, who are in and out of jail or rehab with no luck in changing their ways. This may be the hardest step in the process, as these individuals are rather stuck in their ways and not much open for change. We can set out a list of options for them to choose from; the first option being mandatory rehab in an approved facility with a minimum stay of 90 days (depending on the number of prior offenses) and mandatory sober living in an approved facility for 12 months following the rehab stay, the next option being a maximum sentence allowable by law in a state prison, and finally the last option a minimum of 1 year in a rehab facility.
Lastly, we have to open up the discussion on addiction, it may start as a choice but in the end, addiction is clearly defined as a brain disease. We have to equalize the perception of drug addiction as a brain disorder and treat it as such.
In conclusion, drug abuse and drug addiction is a disease that adversely affects the brain. There are several factors that can help to identify persons at risk of abusing drugs such as; gender, race/ethnicity, education, and religiosity. However, some addicts do not fall into those categories, for example an alcoholic priest, an opioid dependent doctor, or even a marijuana smoking soccer mom. Sociology has tried to determine what causes addiction and how it became a social problem, that is where the symbolic interactionism theory comes into play. Symbolic Interactionism says that an individual learns how to use drugs and what attitude to feel towards drug use from interacting with people who already do use drugs.
There is a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos versus whites currently serving time for drug related offenses. In order to curtail drug abuse, we must shift our focus from blaming people of color for drug use and accepting that no one is perfect and every race faces problems with addiction. If we all come together and support each other, we can change the face of addiction. Then we need to focus on healing those who need it and educating those who are at the highest risk.