Social Influence Explantations for Substance Abuse

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Social Influence

  • Comes in many different forms and is a major contributor to the intiation of substance abuse as well as the maintenance of it

A 2002 survey carried out in the UK asked individuals if they tool illegal drugs, and the reason for their participation

  • 28% admitted to taking illegal drugs
  • 75% of these gave curiosity as a reason
  • 22% of these gave peer pressure as a reason
  • 3% of these gave a desire to emulate their heroes as a reason

Illustrates the effect of both media and people in an individual's life, both of which being social influences

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Obervational Learning

  • Where an individual will observe the acts of a model and if they are perceived to be being rewarded for their behaviour then it is likely the individual will copy or immitate the behaviour
  • If the observer considers the model to be like themselves then thet will have more of an influence on the observer's behaviour. This includes gender, age and status
  • Observational learning involves vacarious reinforcement (indirect reinforcement) which can cause an individual to begin substance abusing e.g. if an individual sees their older sibling drinking and being rewarded for it by having a good time then this act as positive vicarious reinforcement for the individual to start drinking at an early age

White et al (2000)

  • A longitudinal study which aimed to find out the effects of parental smoking and drinking on the behaviour of their offspring
  • On 4 occasions data was collected from the parents and their offspring, results indicated that parental modelling, particularly by the mother, affected the offspring's drinking but had less of an influence on their smoking
  • Suggests that parental modelling effects the child's behaviour towards alcohol consumption but not so much towards smoking- parental influence is specific
  • Supports Brooke- peer and personality influences are more likely to influence marjuana use
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1. Peer Influence

  • As a child grows up they form their own opinions which often clash with those of their parents, as a result they become more independant of their family and more dependant on their peer group who share similar views on society

Social Selection

  • A term used by Reed and Rowntree (1997)
  • When a teenager decides which group they want to socialise with
  • If the teenager selects a group that openly substance abuses then they will be at a greater risk of becoming involved themselves

Normative Influence

  • A form of conformity also known as compliance
  • In a group of substance abuses, the individual is more likely to participate in this activity due to a powerful need for social approval from the group
  • Results in public agreement (substance abusing), however public opinion remains unchanged (aware of its serious health effects)
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2. Peer Influence

Garnier and Stein (2002)

  • Aim: To find out whether peer influences or family influences are the best predictors of problem behaviours such as substance abuse
  • Method: 198 children from conventional and non-conventional families, were studied up to the age of 18 in a longitudinal study, interviewing the preganant mothers and later the teenage children
  • Results: The best predictor of teenage substance abuse problems was similar behaviour by peers
  • Conclusion: Peer pressure and a desire to fit in with group norms have a significant influence on teenage substance abuse
  • Evaluation: A correlation not cause and effect

Bricker et al

  • Peer smoking is most influential on starting to smole but parental smoking was more influential when it came to the transitions from monthly to daily smoking as the teenager got older
  • Suggests that multiple sources of influence effect the substance abused as well as the frequency that it is abused
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1. Social Norms

  • A generalisation of what is considered to be normal behaviour in a particular society
  • Influential when concerning alcohol e.g. in the Muslim society, alcohol consumption is prohibited whereas in French clture it seen as something that leads to pleasant relaxation and sociability


  • In Korea, alcohol consumptions is encouraged an public displays of drinking are associated with male mastery and domination
  • In Taiwan however, alcohol is consumed with meals and on  ceremonial occasions, drunkeness is dissaproved of and seen as a sign of degeneration and weakness
  • Supports social influence as it illustrates how society influences the quantity and individual will consume
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2. Social Norms


  • Drinking is widely considered an integral part of university life- increases the chance/ quantity that a university student will drink
  • Studies have shown that the sterotype o heavy drinking may have been overestimated
  • Perkins et al: conducted a study involving 76,000 american college students, found a consistent overestimation in the quanitity of alcohol the students believed their peers drank
  • Increases the risk of substance abuse because people are trying to fit in with a false perceived norm
  • Social selection can be said to influence this social norm as heavy drinkers will often associate themselves with other heavy drinkers leading to heavy drinking to again become the perceived norm
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Self Efficacy

  • The extent to which social influence affects an individual's characteristics and actions
  • A term used by Bandura, descibes a person's belief of how much they control their own lives
  • If an individual has self efficacy they are less likely to be affected by social influence and social norms concerning substance abuse and so will be more resistant to factors such as peer pressure
  • Other factors that can reduce the risk of an individual partaking in substance abuse includes: high self esteem, supportive, non-pressurising friends and a knowledge on the negative effects of substance abuse from both a health and social point of view
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Social Influence Evaluation

  • Successfully explains the impact of society and culture in increasing the likelihood of substance abuse
  • Cannot explain why substance abuse takes place where the peer groups and family of the individual do not participate in these activities meaning vicarious reinforcement is not a factor- this situation is better explained by the biological explaanation
  • Suggest that one theory is not sufficient enough to explain the causes and maintenance of substance abuse, instead multiple explanations should be used in conjunction
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