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Theories of Drug Use. Lecture 5. What to Expect in This Lecture. What is theory? Nature Theories Biological Theories Neurochemical explanations Genetic explanations Psychological Theories Psychoanalytic explanations Personality theories Behavioral theories Sociological Theories

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what to expect in this lecture
What to Expect in This Lecture
  • What is theory?
  • Nature Theories
  • Biological Theories
    • Neurochemical explanations
    • Genetic explanations
  • Psychological Theories
    • Psychoanalytic explanations
    • Personality theories
    • Behavioral theories
  • Sociological Theories
    • Social process theories
    • Social structural theories
    • Societal reaction theories
what is theory
What is Theory?
  • A theory is an explanation for the occurrence of something
    • Scientific theory is an explanation that can be falsified empirically
  • That which we are attempting to explain here is:
    • The onset of drug use
    • Drug addiction
nature theory
Nature Theory
  • Suggest that predisposition to drug use and addiction are intrinsic to human nature
  • Early theories explained addiction in terms of being weak-willed, etc.
  • Andrew Weil suggests that use and addiction is rooted in a universal desire to alter consciousness

Timothy Leary

Andrew Weil

evaluation of nature theory
Evaluation of Nature Theory
  • Strength
    • Intuitively appealing
  • Weaknesses
    • Cannot be empirically verified or falsified
    • Cannot explain why individuals opt for a particular type of conscience-altering behavior
biological theories
Biological Theories
  • Emerged in 19th century in response to the moralistic “nature” theories
  • Used a “disease” model to explain addiction
    • As a disease, addiction was seen as something that was readily spread
    • Drugs were seen as “toxins” that destroyed the body
  • More recent biological theories have focused on the following two areas:
    • Neurochemical bases for addiction
    • Biogenetic bases for addiction
biological theories neurochemical explanations
Biological Theories:Neurochemical Explanations
  • Neurochemical explanations identify the source of addiction in neurotransmission, which can be defined as,
    • “the mechanism by which signals or impulses are sent from one nerve cell (neuron) to another” (Sunderwith, 1985)
  • The specific neurotransmitter varies across drug types:
    • Opiates – endorphins
    • Cocaine – dopamine
    • Antidepressants – serotonin
biological theories biogenetic explanations
Biological TheoriesBiogenetic Explanations
  • Genetic explanations suggest that some individuals are born with a genetically determined predisposition toward drug use and addiction
  • Genetic explanations rely primarily on epidemiological data to demonstrate this linkage
  • Much of the research in this area focuses on alcoholism
  • Four broad types of research
    • Animal studies
    • Family pattern studies
    • Twin studies
    • Adoption studies
evaluation of biological theories
Evaluation of Biological Theories
  • Neurochemical explanations have, to date, been applied to a small number of drugs
  • Biogenetic explanations:
    • Offer very strong epidemiological evidence for a genetic basis
    • There remain some critical questions, however:
      • Can we generalize from studies of alcoholism to other types of drugs?
      • Researchers have not identified the biogenetic mechanism that causes this genetic link
psychological theories
Psychological Theories
  • Grounded in more general theories of psychology that began to emerge in the 19th century
  • Focus primarily on the nature of individual experiences which might make one more susceptible to drug use and/or addiction
  • Four broad types:
    • Psychoanalytic explanations
    • Personality theories
    • Behavioral theories
psychological theories psychoanalytic explanations
Psychological Theories:Psychoanalytic Explanations
  • Based primarily on the work of Sigmund Freud
  • Identifies cause of drug addiction as abnormal personality development
  • Addiction the result of a search for compensatory gratification emanating from an unhealthy “fixation” at a certain point of personality development

Sigmund Freud

psychological theories personality theories
Psychological Theories:Personality Theories
  • Based on the notion that addiction is a manifestation of a unique type of personality
    • Lawrence Kolb suggested that addicted suffered from a sociopathic personality
    • More commonly, psychologists have pointed to an addictive personality
  • More recently, psychologists identify “personality characteristics” that tend to be associated with drug addiction
  • Jerome Jaffe suggested 3 personality features characteristic of marijuana users:
    • Non-conventionality
    • Open to new experiences
    • Lower rates of conventional achievement value

Jerome Jaffe

psychological theories behavioral explanations
Psychological TheoriesBehavioral Explanations
  • Modeling – Albert Bandura
    • Draws upon Skinner’s idea of operant conditioning
    • Suggests that individuals model behavior after significant others
  • Reinforcing factors in drug use
    • Euphoria
    • Cessation of withdrawal
    • Analgesic effects
    • Primary reinforcement vs. secondary reinforcement
    • Negative reinforcement
  • Cognitive Behavioral Theories – Alfred Lindesmith

Albert Bandura

Alfred Lindesmith

sociological theories
Sociological Theories
  • Come from sociological theories explaining crime and deviance generally
  • Fall into 3 broad categories
    • Social Process Theories
    • Social Structure Theories
    • Societal Reaction Theores
social process theories learning theories
Social Process Theories:Learning Theories
  • Assumption: people are not born criminals or drug users, but learn these behaviors
  • Task: Determine how this learning takes place
  • Sutherland – Differential Association Theory
  • Akers – Differential Reinforcement Theory
  • Howard Becker – “Becoming a Marijuana User”

Edwin Sutherland

Ron Akeres

Howard Becker

social process theories control theories
Social Process Theories:Control Theories
  • Assumption: Human beings are predisposed toward maximizing self-interest; hence, everyone has the capacity to commit crime
  • Task: Must answer, “Why do most people not engage in drug use or crime?”
  • Travis Hirschi: The Social Bond

Travis Hirschi

social structure theories
Social Structure Theories
  • Focus is on why certain categories of people tend to be more involved in drug use or addiction
  • Three types of structural theories
    • Strain Theories
    • Cultural Deviance Theories
    • Integrated Structural Theory
strain theories merton
Strain Theories: Merton

Merton’s theory of “anomie” stressed two structural conditions:

The interaction of these conditions produce five adaptive responses:

strain theories cloward and ohlin
Strain Theories: Cloward and Ohlin
  • Theory of differential opportunity suggests that there are 2 opportunity structures: a legitimate and an illegitimate one
  • Drug users are double failures: they have failed to succeed in both
  • Such failure results in retreating from society altogether
evaluation of strain theories
Evaluation of Strain Theories
  • Has not stood up well under empirical scrutiny
  • Many street drug addicts are not even interested in achieving in the legitimate opportunity structure
  • Moreover, to sustain an expensive drug habit, usually requires success in the illegitimate opportunity structure
cultural deviance theories
Cultural Deviance Theories
  • Tradition has its beginning at the University of Chicago in the 1920’s
  • Application to subcultures of drug use in 1960’s by John O’Donnell at the University of Kentucky
    • Explained the emergence drug subcultures that arose in transitional neighborhoods
    • Suggested that criminalization of drugs posed a common problem to users of drugs in these neighborhoods: how to obtain regular supplies of the drug
    • Users learned to commit crimes and other creative ways to get these drugs
charles winick an integrated structural theory
Charles Winick:An Integrated Structural Theory
  • Attempted to explain drug dependence and addiction
  • Suggested that it is dependent on 3 factors:
    • Access to drugs
    • Disengagement from normative proscriptions against drug use
    • Role strain and/or deprivation
societal reaction theories
Societal Reaction Theories
  • Represent a “paradigm shift” in sociological theorizing
  • Rather focusing on why people engage in deviant (e.g., drug using) behavior, focus is on explaining why society reacts the way it does
  • Two theories identified with societal reaction framework
    • Labeling Theory
    • Conflict Theory
labeling theory
Labeling Theory
  • Three primary questions:
    • Why are certain behaviors defined as deviant?
    • Why are particular individuals labeled as deviant?
    • What is the effect of the label?
question 1 the defining of deviant behavior
Question #1: The Defining of Deviant Behavior
  • Argue that there is no necessary correlation between what is objectively harmful and what is illegal or considered deviant
  • Rather, the social construction of deviance involves a process of moral entrepreneurship
question 2 differential labeling of individuals
Question #2: Differential Labeling of Individuals
  • Note that not all individuals who engage in acts defined as deviant are so labeled
  • Moreover, those labeled are not necessarily the ones most seriously involved
  • Factors that seem to determine whether one is labeled are:
    • Visibility of deviant behavior
    • Disposition of deviant
    • Mobilization of community bias
question 3 impact of labeling
Question #3: Impact of Labeling
  • Suggest that labeling usually has a negative impact
    • Goffman – stigma
    • Becker – master status
    • Lemert – primary vs. secondary deviance
    • Tannenbaum – degradation ceremony

Moral Entrepreneurs

(Rule Makers)

Initial Deviant Act

(Primary Deviance)


(Rule Enforcers)

Stigma/Master Status

(Public Identity)

Subsequent Behavior

(Secondary Deviance)

Self Concept

Role Engulfment

(Personal Identity)

conflict theory
Conflict Theory
  • Based broadly on the classic work of Karl Marx
  • Elliot Currie suggests that heroin and crack use are concentrated in economically deprived inner cities:
    • Because economic opportunities are scarce
    • Resulting in perceived powerlessness and alienation
    • With the consequence of destroying individual and family life
  • According to conflict theorists, drug policy must address economic and political conditions which polarize social classes

Elliot Currie