The question is why do people abuse drugs? What causes them to go against society with this deviant behavior? Society has set its norms concerning what behavior is acceptable and what is not acceptable. In this paper I will summarize three Sociological Theories of Drug Abuse. These theories are: Anomie Theory, Labeling Theory, and Differential Association Theory.
According to Sociology at Hewett, Emile Durkheim developed the Anomie Theory in his book, The Division of Labour in Society that was published in 1893. The book also described Anomie as the breakdown that was happening in society. The social norms were breaking down and those norms no longer controlled the actions of people within the society. The expected behavior was changing and people did not know what to expect from each other.
Robert Merton applied this theory to drug abuse according to the text Social Problems to when there is a discrepancy between socially approved goals and the means of obtaining those goals. The theory states that if a person is prevented from achieving their set goals in life according to society’s norms they may be driven to use alcohol or drugs. The use of alcohol or drugs is an escape from the pressures of not reaching and obtaining what society dictates they should. For example in today’s society having a high paying job and to being able to purchase that $200,000 home that everyone else is purchasing. Society doesn’t provide enough high paying jobs for everyone to be able to reach this goal.
Goals need to be realistic and society needs to have the means for individual to meet their goals. The means for reaching goals needs to be equal for everyone. Because when people do not reach their goals they can turn to alcohol or drugs to experience the “highs” and “good feelings” as a substitute for their failures. This theory is also reinforced by Merton’s Stain Theory where he states, “Retreatism is the adaptation of those who give up not only the goals but also the means. They often retreat into the world of alcoholism and drug addiction. They escape into a non-productive, non-striving lifestyle.” These people will be labeled accordingly by society.
Several theorists developed the Labeling Theory. The theory basically states that when you apply a label to a person that person will usually fulfill that label. By becoming that which he has been labeled. For example: a teenager begins to associate with a “known” group of kids. Because of this association this teenager is being labeled “junkie”. It’s not necessarily true that this teenager is a user, but when the label is applied the teen may now begin to engage in or increase the activity that society has now labeled him.
Sociologist Howard S. Becker in 1963 said that, “Labeling theory focuses on the reaction of other people and the subsequent effects of those reactions which create deviance.” When society applies a label, according to Becker, then the individual becomes an “outsider” to society. Thus more and more people will treat them that way and they in turn will live up to the label that society has applied to them. Labeling can happen due to a person’s associations.
Edwin H. Sutherland developed the theory of Differential Association, he claims that behavior is learned through interaction with others or associations . Sutherland defined his theory in the form of nine postulates found in the 4th edition of his textbook Principles of Criminology. Applying these postulates to drug abuser means that behavior is learned. It is learned through the interaction with other people in a process of communication. The learning or using occurs within intimate personal groups. Learning includes the techniques of drug use, and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes. The direction of motives and drives are learned from definitions of being legal or not.
In summary, the Anomie Theory states that people turn toward alcohol and drug abuse due to feeling inadequate in fulfilling their goals in life. The labeling theory states that when society labels a person they are more apt to become what the label communicates. The Differential Association Theory states that we become like the people we associate with or hang out with. It is important to note as stated in the text that each of these theories has “holes” in them. They can not explain why people abuse drugs and yet the have fulfilled their goals in life, why the drug addict was abusing drugs before the label was applied, and why the differential association theory only states that the reason for drug abuse is through association not why it happens.
There are drug abusers from every walk of life. From the rich to the poor, religious believers to non-believers, the educated to the non-educated the one fact that stands out is that it can happen to anyone.