Diagnosing and treating those afflicted with addiction are the most prominent ways health care systems manage such a serious, universal problem. While these processes are indeed important, they are essentially solutions that only clean around the wound of worldwide drug dependency. To help heal a deep and widespread issue like this, a closer observation of how these abusive tendencies begin and are sustained must be made. The first step is to think of drug use in a much smaller perspective.
An important definition concerning this topic is epidemiology, which is defined as “the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including disease), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems.” While it is an issue shared among an abundance of different regions and territories, people start and continue using substances for very universal reasons.
A particular pathway that sheds powerful influence on drug using behavior is the drug using community and the social networking that goes on within it. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), drug use during adolescence or in high school is quite common, with the average age of marijuana use beginning at age 14 and alcohol use beginning before age 12. Another relevant finding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse is that teens are more likely to ignore risk in favor of even abstract rewards, like social acceptance. One specific trial showed that an adolescent driver took more vehicle-related risks when he or she was aware that another person was watching.
Both of these findings contribute to the power of social circles and substance use. The growing, adolescent brain is more vulnerable to social manipulation. In addition, this time in a person’s life is marked by a desire for exploration and independent defiance. As more teenagers start risky behaviors, these same individuals will continue to influence more of their peers as well.
Adolescent addiction’s impact on adulthood
During one’s teenage years, the individual sets the stage for the kind of adult he or she will become. If addictive substances are introduced during this developmental period, there is a higher chance that using those substances and related activity will persist into adulthood. In contrast to adolescent drug use research, there is a lacking focus on how social influences sustain a person’s destructive habit.
The procedural cycle of finding and obtaining drugs to feed a developed addiction is based on social connections. The addict may form a transaction-based relationship with a dealer or the individual could use substances with friends who also partake as well. Being a part of a group that is centered on drug use creates a bubble effect. In short, the addict may see no reason to cease abusing drugs because there are no contradictory elements to confront him or her.
Once a serious dependency is cemented within a person, breaking through social barriers is a necessary goal for treatment to take effect. This is especially true when someone addicted to drugs tries to cease its use. Since addictive pathways are learned through an association with memories, being exposed to a person, place or other stimulus related to one’s drug using days can lead to nostalgia and eventually relapse.
On the other hand, productive social influences can actually unhinge the grasp of a drug using social network. A collection of sources highlight this social process, including a Swedish study that showed positive emotional support was independently associated with smoking cessation. Two prospective cohort studies also showed similar findings. Becoming married to a nonsmoker and having a decreasing proportion of friends who smoked were important predictors of smoking cessation. In addition, having a supportive social network that advocated abstinence was also an important determinant ceased substance use.
The bottom line is that human beings are social animals. A fraction of addictive behavior can be attributed to biological or psychological factors. But behaviors, even addictive ones, are essentially how people communicate and interact with others. To truly curb the trends of drug use on a national and international scale, scientists and practitioners must address the underlying social cues and motivations related to each individual.
When a diagnosis is given and a treatment plan is determined at Sovereign Health of California, the qualified staff in our ranks ensure that a comprehensive and integrative perspective is always utilized. Sovereign aims for long-lasting recovery for every client that walks through our doors. If you or a loved one suffers from a pattern of abuse or addiction, please contact professional resources immediately. An expert consultant is always available online or at (866) 819-0427 for more information.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer