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Essay: Drug use and deviant behavior

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  • Published: 27 November 2022*
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Drug use can be analyzed by looking at the individual or society as a whole but through both outlooks, the concept of deviance exists because society defines what is accepted behavior and what is deviant behavior. The use of recreational drugs violates both societal rules and laws and is by definition, deemed deviant. Emile Durkheim believes that everything exists for the function and unification of the whole society, even deviance. Durkheim argues that deviance promotes unity within society because deviance is a social construction wherein members of society construct a set of rules that they expect every member to follow. Deviance would not only determine but strengthen the values and boundaries of society which encourages solidarity (Collins, 1994). Durkheim also stresses the importance of unity through his Functionalism Theory. Stigmatizing members who deviate leads to isolation of deviants allowing for unification from that stigma and leads the isolated population to seek support and acceptance from each other which creates room for changes in social norms and would shift society’s current conception of deviance. Although Durkheim makes valid points regarding deviance and society, his theories are applied at a very macro level which is fine to explain very simple aspects of deviance and society but intersecting deviance and drug use requires a more micro level view, meaning that it’s better to look at deviance at both a societal and individual level. When we focus on the individual, we discover different aspects of society that may go unrecognized at the macro level. The Social Disorganization Theory is a theory that is alternative to Durkheim’s and is applied towards the individual. This theory states, in the simplest of terms, that a person’s social and physical enviro. Some communities engage in more deviance or tend to follow more social norms than others because of the environment that they have been introduced to and raised around. Environment is an important influence and determinant of an individual’s behavior. For instance, relationships. Not everyone grows up around the same type of relationships yet society has created a set of norms for those in relationships. If an individual grows up in a community where having multiple partners in a marriage is of the norm, then that individual is most likely to have multiple partners in their marriage. r body modification, may also be determined by an individual’s environment (Inderbitzin, 2017). If most of the community has accepted such body modifications but society has rejected them, the individual would most likely be more influenced by the groups that they have surrounded themselves with, allowing for more physical deviance. Viewing different forms of deviance in this context helps broaden our understanding of social disorganization so that it can simply be applied to drug use. Due to social disorganization, an individual that is raised around recreational and prescription drug users may be influenced enough to use drugs for recreation or prescription which is notoriously stigmatized. Society pushes deviants together which creates communities that will accept deviant behavior and those communities raise individuals who deviate from social norms which will either bring about more rejection and continue the cycle, or break the cycle and implement new social norms that will result in acceptance.

​Most members of society have been told or shown that having money, an education and hard earned forms of success is what everyone should strive for. as put in place. One of the more popular methods is drug use. According to the article, “Behavior Genetics and Anomie/Strain Theory”, strain theory helps depict how “Behavior genetics examines the individual differences that sort people into different modes of adaptation and that lead them to cope constructively or destructively with strain.” (Walsh) The use of recreational drugs would be a destructive method of coping with stress. The chosen method may have been predetermined based on the environment but ultimately, society drives individuals to figure out how to handle life on their own through many means. Much like the Social Disorganization Theory states, an individual’s environment may also contribute to the choice to use drugs when coping and dealing with stress that may be brought on by the pressures of society. Stress or strain may also just be the ignition to a genetical predisposition of drug abuse and delinquency. Both Merton’s and Walsh’s denominations of Strain Theory conclude that deviant behavior are methods of coping. Merton acknowledged the pressures society bid on its members and Walsh acknowledged how those pressures would lead to destructive coping mechanisms. The use of drugs, for example, would be a destructive method of coping with stress. An individual’s environment may also contribute to the choice to use when coping and dealing with stress brought on by society. In neighborhoods that have a higher rate of delinquency, there may be easier access to drugs, making it the most appealing way to relieve stress (Inderbitzin, 2017). Studies show that “the most consistent predictor of rates of problem behavior is youths’ perceptions of limited opportunities for the future.” (Kingston, Huizinga, Elliott) Individuals who grow up in communities with high crime rates and lower poverty levels believe that they have “limited opportunities” to be successful, so they turn to deviant works like using and distributing drugs. An individual’s home life is also a factor of the rate of deviance. “Based on data from 483 Canadian municipalities, the results revealed that low income, mobility and ethnic heterogeneity had the expected positive effects on youth crime, particularly in municipalities with smaller population and lower prevalence of low income.” (Wong) Stress or strain may also just be the ignition to a genetical predisposition of drug abuse and delinquency. Durkheim theory would support society’s implied pressure on individuals to be as successful as the one percent because the main concern in Durkheim theory is solidarity. The idea of success may be a social construction but the attempt to get every member of society on the same level of success would be a fight for a unified society.

​Society uses various forms of social control to manage deviant behavior to influence individuals who have strayed from the social norms that society has set up and agreed upon. The misuse of drugs is considered deviant behavior due to the supposed poor judgement by users. Society uses either punishment or treatment to decrease the amount of deviant behavior and ensure that members follow social norms (Coser). Social control plays an imperative role in getting members to follow the norms that have been practiced by society. The most common methods of social control include imprisonment, fines and parole. by rehab facilities to receive treatment for addiction. Specific treatments towards deviance and drug use allows for society to control the deviant behavior by not only temporarily removing it, but also by improving and resolving the behavior (Inderbitzin, 2017). Some Social Control methods use mechanisms like guilt and shame to force individuals who are more easily influenced, like children, to follow social norms. “Informal social control occurs when ordinary people (as opposed to employees of the state) undertake actions to achieve public order and prevent crime.” (Emery, Trung, and Wu) In terms of drug use, most members of society are influenced at a young age about the dangers of drug usage and drug abuse by their families and communities. Using passive teachings against drug use allows members to either steer away or use to see the harmful effects. The Social Disorganization Theory sates that an individual’s surroundings is the main determinant of their behavior. Using Social Disorganization to determine why individuals use drugs and social control to show how the behavior is controlled, is the essence of deviance in drug use. For social control to be effective, “violating the norms” must seem much more of a risk than complying with them. Due to drug use and addiction being possible biological determinants of deviance, formal government, health institutions, families and communities, would all showcase the risk factors of drug use sufficiently. In an attempt to promote solidarity, society tries to control deviant behavior so that individuals follow the norms that society has set up. Durkheim believed that deviance should be met with punishment so that members of society will stop deviating and societal values can be strengthened instead of changed. Since he believed that every part of society has a purpose for the function of the whole, drug use and the societal consequences, promotes unity within society since the deviant behavior is attempting to be expelled by the whole of society (Coser). Society doesn’t just use punishment and institutions in an attempt to control deviance. The media also plays a large role in social control, especially in the case of drug use. Law enforcement will feed the media false information about drugs and drug effects so that the audience will be afraid to start or continue to use drugs. There are multiple factors at stake when it comes to what the public understands about drugs. For starters, if the public is misinformed about drug use, it could lead to incorrect usage and selling of drugs that could harm those who use. Law enforcement and government stand to benefit from certain information being circulated because it makes both parties look good in the media and increases funding for fighting the war on drugs. The implications of drug related information for individuals, policy-makers, and society-at-large are that drugs are illegal, do terrible things to your body and mind, and must be eradicated from society. Drug related information is exaggerated on most platforms in an attempt to glorify law enforcement and further prevent increased drug usage and dealing. Collectively, society’s force on deviance has not been known to reduce the behavior but instead influence it enough to strengthen uniform values. Delinquency and Social Control seem like polar opposite theories, yet they connect through Durkheim theory. Durkheim believes that deviance is necessary because it serves for the function of the whole society. Social Control encourages unity by reducing the amount of deviant behavior so that less members will be rejected for the violation of social norms but according to Durkheim, deviance is a necessity. Trying to control deviant behavior will not only strengthen societal norms, but it also promotes a sense of free will.

​Assumptions about human nature and free will be made when discussing the causes, prevention, and responses to deviance as it occurs. Assuming that an individual’s behavior is determined, we can use Social Control theories to understand how to prevent and respond to determined deviant behavior. Determinism can be defined as our behavior being determined by, controlled by, or are limited by forces that we are not in control of. As a response to determined deviance, societies may use individual treatments like medication and therapy or head straight for the root cause and push social change Using various forms of Social Control, societies can “treat” and further prevent deviant behavior from individuals with a predisposition. On the other hand, assuming that an individual’s behavior is of their own free will, alternate theories of deviance can explain the causes, prevention, and the responses to deviant behavior. The Social Disorganization Theory explains that a possible cause of deviant behavior is the influence of an individual’s environment. Although an individual has the freedom to make choices, according to the Social Disorganization Theory, those who grow up in a poor environment tend to make poor choices. Strain Theories can also explain possible causes of deviant behavior. Merton’s Strain Theory states that the pressures to achieve goals that are not equally achievable to every member of society creates strain on individuals. which may cause deviant behavior. Social Control theories can also be used to prevent and respond to deviant behavior of an individual’s own freewill. Individuals tend to weigh out the pros and cons of an action and when they violate the norms, the use of laws, rules, and institutions are enforced through formal social control and societies use methods of informal social control to manipulate individuals through the pressure of familial connections.


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