Factors affecting addiction

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 15-06-13 13:47

Self Esteem

Self esteem is something that is based on how we see ourselves (our self image) and how we would like to be (ideal self). If our self image and ideal self match then we are likely to have a high self esteem. When these do not match this is when we are likely to have a low self esteem and are also likely to be more susceptible to addictive behaviours.

TAYLOR ET AL. (2006) wanted to see if there was a link between low self esteem in childhood (11 yrs old) and drug dependency by the time they reached 20 yrs old. They looked at a multi ethnic sample of 872 boys and found that those with a low self esteem in childhood were 1.6 times more likely to be drug dependent in adulthood.

  • Multi ethnic – not culture bias, strong support
  • External validity – reflects real life
  • Gender bias, androcentric, based on boys, weakens support
  • Small amount of evidence to support that idea
  • not significant enough

However, an earlier study by GREENBERG ET AL. (1999) looked at multiple addictions (alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, exercise, gambling, internet use, television and video games) but only found a link to self-esteem for exercise.

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ATTRIBUTIONS are judgements individuals make to explain either their own or others’ behaviours. These can be either SITUATIONAL (external) or DISPOSITIONAL (internal). They are often biased in our favour – especially for socially undesirable behaviours like addictions:

SITUATIONAL(external) where the individual explains the cause of a behaviour being due to external factors. For example, ‘I am an alcoholic because I grew up in a rough area’

DISPOSITIONAL(internal)  where the individual explains the cause of the behaviour being due to internal factors. For example, ‘he is an alcoholic because he is weak’ 

What is particularly interesting is that people often make external attributions for their own undesirable behaviour (such as addictions), yet make internal attributions for others’. This was found by SENEVIRATNE AND SAUNDERS (2000) when looking at alcohol dependent patients who had had a relapse. In this sense, we could argue that those who explain their own behaviour in terms of external attributions are more likely to succumb to addiction – as they feel less personally responsible for such behaviour.

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The Addictive Personality

Eysenck argues there are genetically determined personality traits that relate to addiction: 

P (PSYCHOTICISM)angry, mood swings, find it hard to control emotions, act on impulse, don’t think about the consequences

N (NEUROTICISM) – anxious, worrying, nervous, easily stressed, irritable

E (EXTRAVERSION) – outgoing, sociable, don’t like to be alone, attention seeking

The assumption is that people who are high in traits of N and P are more likely to become addicted. This is supported by FRANCIS (1996) People with personality types high in P (impulsive and aggressive) and N (moody, irritable and anxious) were found to be more likely to have problems with substance abuse. 

  • This research is based on correlational data; this is a problem because you can’t determine cause and effect.

This is further supported in research by ROUNSAVILLE who found a strong link between alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder

This supports the idea that specific personality types are more susceptible to addiction because people with antisocial personality disorder tend to be high in Psychoticism. Thus, people high in Psychotisicm are more likely to be more susceptible to addition.

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There is a well established link between anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Individuals high on traits such as anxiety and are more reactive to stressful life events and in turn this motivates the individual to seek quick and psychological relief from distress – in the form of drugs (CLARIDGE AND DAVIS, 2003) 

Consistent with this hypothesis is the argument that addicts don’t select drugs randomly but as a result of the pharmacological action of the drug. For example a person with high anxiety and aggression is more likely to take Heroin as the opiates have a muting action that subdues their rage (CLARIDGE AND DAVIS). 

However, because many of the studies supporting the link between anxiety and addiction have used addicts recruited from treatment and rehabilitation, it may be that the anxiety is caused by the stress of withdrawal. 

This is a problem because you can’t establish cause and effect, you don’t know whether anxiety causes addiction, or withdrawal causes addiction.

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Peer Influences

Society also seems to have an effect on addiction. In particular research has focused on parental and peer influences. SIMONS-MORTON ET AL. (2001) found that when parents were more involved and had high expectations of their children they were at a far lower risk of using drugs. They also found in 2005 that when peers spent more time with deviant peers they were more likely to drink alcohol. 

Additional research has identified that smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol also increases the possibility of taking cannabis (WAGNER AND ANTHONY, 2002). Furthermore, taking cannabis also increases the risk of trying cocaine. Thus, having deviant peers increases the availability of addictive drugs.

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Problem gambling amongst adolescents has been shown to be two to four times that of adults. Studies in Canada suggest that 4 to 8% of adolescents have a severe gambling addiction, furthermore 10 to 15% of adolescents gamble excessively; therefore this makes them more vulnerable to development of a severe gambling problem (DICKSON et al 2004).

  • culture bias, less representative, low external validity

 In addition MESSERLIAN says there is ample evidence to show that gambling amongst adolescents has increased over the last two decades

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The media

Whether or not the media has an effect on the use of drugs and alcohol is a hugely debated argument.

The media, especially television and film, often portray addictions (eg heroin addiction in the film Train Spotting). Such portrayals can be viewed as glorifying addictive behaviour. However, the makers of such films tend to defend themselves by arguing that they are simply reflecting the reality of addiction and showing that addiction cuts across political, ethnic and religious divides.

Research suggests that the media can influence addictive behaviours. For example, DALTON ET AL (2003) found that the more adolescents are exposed to movies with smoking, the more likely they are to start. In addition, the likeability of the actors (both on and off screen) is related to their adolescent fans’ decision to smoke (DISTEFAN et al, 1999).

Furthermore, BOON AND LOMORE (2001) found that 75% of young adults admitted that they had once had a strong attachment to a celebrity and 59% of those stated that they had a strong influence on their attitudes and beliefs. If this is the case it is possible to assume that celebrities may influence an individual’s decision to take drugs.

Also, a study looking at 200 films showed that drug use was portrayed in a positive light without any negative consequences (GUNSEKERA ET AL, 2005). This research had high internal validity, as the recording of drug use in films involved a standardised observation grid and inter-observer reliability was assessed.

Conversely, ROBERTS ET AL. (2002) looked at 300 music videos and said that illicit drugs are actually portrayed in a neutral manner, rather than positive, and simply as being common in everyday life.

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STRASBURGER (1995): Despite an advertising ban, tobacco is still heavily advertised using passive inadvertent advertising (sponsors etc) and product placement.

SARGENT et al (2007): Demonstrated that exposure to smoking in movies predicted risk of becoming a smoker themselves. Therefore suggesting we need to be careful with material shown in films.

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SIGNORELLI (1990): US TV characters were 9 times more likely to smoke in 1964 than in 1982– this followed the pattern of smoking in society.

KLEIN (2005): For adolescents, anti-smoking campaigns and telephone help services inform people of dangers so the media can have a positive influence.

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KORN AND REYNOLDS (2008) : There has been an increase in advertising ‘normalised’ gambling. ‘At risk’ gamblers are extremely sensitive to advertising.

HYUNG-SOEK ET AL (2007):  Claims that the nature of advertising encourages gambling – if an advertising campaign simply says ‘don’t gamble’ it will have little influence

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Hyung-Soek (2007): If media representations are negative then people will view it negatively (so we should see a reduction in addictive behaviour)

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  • The banning of cigarette advertising and smoking in public places have been successful - research shows a correlation between advertising and sales, and in countries that have banned advertising (New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Norway) there has been a significant drop in tobacco consumption


  • The 2005 Gambling Act (in Britain) allows all forms of gambling to be advertised in the mass media - there has been a subsequent proliferation of advertising for betting shops and online poker and bingo. Whether this will lead to an increase in gambling addiction remains to be seen. There have not been enough studies to draw conclusions, and those that have been done have been too small scale to be considered representative.
  • Glamorization versus reality is complicated – drama producers need to depict addiction accurately, but still need to keep ratings up by means of positive portrayals.
  • Research on the role of media effects is inconclusive – more research is needed that investigates direct, indirect and interactive effects of media portrayals of addictive behaviour.
  • Relationships between advertising and addictive behaviour is correlational – so it is not possible to make causal connections.
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  • There could be different media effects for different addictions – there appears to be some relationship between tobacco advertising and smoking uptake. However, advertising seems to have little or no effect on alcohol demand (NELSON, 2001).
  • Research conducted may not be suitable for policy decisions – studies have failed to measure the magnitude of the effect of advertising on young people’s intentions or behaviours in relation to starting smoking and gambling.
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