Guide to understand how culture influences substance abuse

How culture influences substance abuse

The influence of culture on substance abuse calls for attention and insightful investigation by experts. Substance abuse encompasses a range of illegal drugs and natural herbs namely Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and a hopeless addiction to them. Various groups belonging to different cultural beliefs have shown affinity towards drugs down the ages.

Guide to understand how culture influences substance abuse

Substance addiction provides a temporary mind altering effect

Substance addiction provides a temporary mind altering effect leading to ecstatic highs followed by excruciating lows. This psychedelic impact over mind altering the state of consciousness gets into the system by serotonin receptor agonism.

Extremely unhealthy as the habit is it can lead to lunacy and even death. A serious study as to what socio cultural factors result in substance abuse is underway. Consequently, a formula for attending this issue from a social perspective is being worked out. Evaluation of the cause inspiring the drug cult, treatment and rehabilitation of victims is imperative. 

Alcohol and illicit drugs date back to 4000 BC:

marijuana hemp was consumed in China for weaving cloth

Originally,plant based organic matters are transformed into consumable form through processing. Wine and beer have their origins traced to the region occupied by present day Iraq and Iran. Alcohol is thought to have entered North America with European immigrants. However, stray cases of alcohol consumption were recorded among various social groups. Aztecs in Mexico, Pima and Papago in the South West US and Aleuts of remote Alaskan north have all tasted it.

Marijuana or weeds whichever name you call was cultivated 4000 years ago in China and later in India. Interestingly, marijuana hemp was consumed in China for weaving cloth for more than 10000 years ago. Later, its appeal as a psychoactive substance outsmarted its use for clothing.

In the west, marijuana hemp was cultivated by George Washington at Mt. Vernon before the American civil war. It was only next to cotton feeding the clothing industry. Post World War I, it was the Mexican blue collar workforce that introduced marijuana to Americans. Its exhilarating effect was hard to resist, the users got hooked seeking repeat experiences. 

Influence of culture on substance abuse:


Social and cultural values have an impact on how we see life and different lures that draw us to them. Substance use and abuse is one of them and indeed a powerful temptation. If we see it from a different angle, culture shapes our sense of values. It also puts goals before us that we genuinely feel we need to meet.

Certain self expectations arise, and we are driven by the desire to meet those expectations to secure social prestige. Issues crop up whenever expectations fail. We are mentally exhausted and frantically look for support when the platform of confidence slips. Substance gives us instant support. It shows us an easy route to escape.

From a different socio cultural viewpoint altogether, the influence of culture on alcohol abuse is pretty demonstrative among ancient Aztecs. Prior to settlement of European whites, alcohol consumption among Aztec was a sacred ritual. Taking alcohol on non-ceremonial occasions was a punishable offense.

Similarly, among the natives of Northern Mexico, peyote therapy prevailed. Peyote was used to address issues of chronic alcoholism. Peyote therapy was so influential it was adopted by the Native American Church as a key remedy for persistent alcoholism. Fast shift in socio cultural scenario often ends in consequences of substance abuse. 

Change in culture influencing behaviorism:

substance abuse

Victims of this rapidly changing cultural phase are not insulated from psychological stress. They are yet to form a coat of protection of standard behavioral approach approved by social norms. Multiple factors arising from a shifting cultural setting result in a directionless panic. The cultural existence displaced by a deluge of alien culture make social groups emotionally vulnerable.

The odd man out who find it really hard to digest the new cultural pill is hit the most. People who feel comfortable even at the junction of diverse cultural interface are least affected.A recent survey from Washington State shows that illegal drug addiction is the most among Hispanics. This group shows a strong inclination towards absorption of cultural values of the diverse social groups amid which they live.

Illicit substance abuse was 7.2 % compared with less than 1% among Hispanics who are not impacted by a foreign culture. These non-assimilated Hispanics placed family and traditional values over everything else. They were a sort of safeguarded from drug abuse. 

Culture-based evaluation:

Cocaine Addiction

Substance abuse and its source are to be studied in the context of variations in culture keeping US demography in the foreground. The norms of cultural psychiatry helped analyze issues of drug abuse from a more pragmatic angle. This has been made possible from data announced by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder – 4th edition. Based on DSM publication, a guideline for cultural formulation was prescribed to resolve the issue.

In brief, the ideas included:

  • An exploration into cultural dissimilarities in DSM disorders attended.
  • Setting up a wordbook for culture – bond syndrome.
  • A framework for a case prescription which is culturally significant. This again touches 5 important domains:
  • Cultural uniqueness.
  • Cause of illness traced back to cultural origin.
  • Rapport between individual and psychiatrist viewed from a cultural standpoint.
  • Cultural drivers linked with psychological atmosphere and efficiency of how they operate.
  • An entire cultural appraisal of diagnosis and treatment.

Besides, to arrive at a near accurate evaluation of issue, the following areas to be encompassed are:

  • How well the patients are conversant with his culture of origin?
  • Language which is an important part of culture.
  • Unique cultural features and putting them into better shape.
  • The cultural badge of the patients and to which reference group they belong.

The influence of culture on drugs is an undisputed area. One needs to assess the area considering all factors impacting a patient as an individual as well as a part of a larger socio cultural segment. 

A shift towards cultural upliftment:


Mass awareness is the need of the hour considering the way cultural outputs induce drug abuse. Free discussion and moving the varied tapestry of language around abusive potential of substance is the key to understanding the crux better.

Embarking upon a new culture is hard but it is well worth an effort delivering constructive values to younger generation. Values that keep them away from substance abuse are a welcome step ahead.  The growing menace of substance abuse among college and university students are the end blows of eroding cultural memes.

Rather than the methodology of chasing smack or smoking pot for that matter, cultural reasons are more important. To most students drug addiction is a fad passed on by senior batches. If you haven’t smoked,boozed or doped you are an outdated slow-witted bloke. This trend camouflages the ill effects of drugs under a cover of pseudo glamorized hype.

Culture is more than just a conglomerate of rituals,philosophies and customs impacting a specific group of people. It is boiling water,ever dynamic and shifting ideologies to glorify certain values and vilify the other set of values. It opens the interactive portal for individuals to historical,economic and political factors which are variably spread and closely connected.

When you are on the wrong side of the cultural crossroads,you fall from social grace. Drugs come to your rescue pushing you further to your doom. The answer lies in channelizing the huge potential of culture and share with campus students for a productive outcome. The dual need of serving the individual as well as the society along a constructive route will be answered.

Relationship between pop culture and drug abuse:

Relationship between pop culture and drug abuse

Drug abuse do have a link with the kind of occupation you are in to earn a living. A survey was conducted between 2002 and 2004 and subjects were selected from 21 occupational groups. The results revealed that highest number of drug users belonged from food preparation and serving industry.Their number hit 17.4 %. Study samples from the construction industry ranked second making the number at 15 %.

Those in arts, design, entertainment and media and in sports came up third at 12.4 %. Drug addiction among creative artists especially those who couldn’t make it to the top is quite high. The least number of drug addicts were found in occupations connected to some form of social service. The list goes as follows:

  • Protective service   3.4%
  • Community and Social service  4 %
  • Education, training and library 4.1 %

Socio – cultural drivers:

Financial issues

A study carried out in Malaysia was aimed at contribution of socio – cultural factors on drug abuse. Semi -structured questionnaires were set and 7 candidates were selected from the rehabilitation centers. The survey revealed a plethora of causes responsible for inviting drugs in their lives, such as:

  • Financial status of families
  • Influence of peers.
  • Snoopiness for tasting something supposedly forbidden.
  • Bury grief for betrayal in love.

However, the survey further found drug addiction was caused by a mix of several factors and not just for one. Since how these factors impacted each of them was different, a tailored counseling was advocated to augment the outcome. 

Treatment and prevention:

Treatment and prevention

Most attempts of prevention and treatment of substance abuse in the past had been futile. Influence of culture on drugs, specially its fluctuating components was ignored. This was one of the reasons of failure while analyzing stress induced behavior leading to drugs. 

Better understanding of the community of the individual and taking a customized approach:

Prevention and treatment models should be custom designed

Success of a flawless treatment and prevention program would be its effective interaction and understanding of the community. This is the community where the individual resides and gets inputs to feed his desires and demands. Prevention and treatment models should be custom designed taking care of the cultural variables of a community. In the context of these changeable, an adolescent’s mind should be studied.

Their emotional and physical needs are to be investigated to see if the family and community at large are responding to their yearnings. It is very important to recognize the uniqueness of these longings as they are different for each one. Similarly the communities are different for each it is a complex model with too many variables. 

Cultural similarity helps in trust building in rehabs:


What is important is that rehabilitation services are case sensitive. They should meet goal congruency of the individuals and the society surrounding them.  An effective rehabilitation package depends on the strength of bonding between the young drug addict and the treatment provider. If they are from different cultural group, things don’t go well. A certain degree of trust between the two needs to be developed which isn’t easy if they come from different cultural background. 

Instilling cultural values:


Different cultures throw different kind of challenges and problems at lives of people belonging to different value system. An efficient prevention and treatment strategy should be broad enough to take care of the multiple natures of problems. These problems pester the patients who see no solution other than substance addiction.

The communities need to set up a uniform culture with explicit value system. Drugs and alcohol abuse is only a part of a crude culture. They will be swept clean by a bigger cultural push with positive values. Influence of culture on alcohol abuse will start waning when gradually good sides of this value system starts gaining ground.

Timing of setting up a culturally cohesive community is important. It should not come after rehabilitation program starts working. Both should run subsequently, better if community assimilation comes before launch of rehab plans. 

Final thoughts:

Culture indeed has a say in introducing a person to substance abuse. The most vulnerable group is the adolescents being exposed to new cultural concepts. Their minds are soft not experienced to develop a protective accept-reject judgmental screening.  Culture sets priorities in life and values to be adopted. These drive the desire for substance use and abuse.

Cultural groups like the peer circle and ethnic groups have a powerful hold on young and impressionable minds. Often there runs a conflict between the two and the young mind is torn in between the struggle.  The behavior of the adolescent, the rebellion inside the core and attitude towards society interact in complex dynamics.

In such a difficult set up where substance is available, getting hooked on to it is the natural consequence. Even rapid shift from one culture to another exposes the young mind to fresh set of values. Often it becomes hard to reconcile between the two worlds represented by different cultures. Lack of purpose, insecurity and identity crisis takes over the adolescent’s mind. Drugs and submitting to them looks like a temporary escape if not a permanent solution.

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