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Reason for Addiction 1: Social Context - Drug Rehab and Alcohol Treatment

Reason for Addiction 1: Social Context


There are many reasons a person becomes a drug addict or alcoholic. Social context is one reason we explore in the first blog of this Reason for Addiction blog series.


Drug Rehab Treatment Help is beginning a blog series looking at the different reasons why people become addicted to drugs and alcohol.


This series has been created to show that there is not just one reason a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. Rather, there are many factors that lead to a person using, abusing, and becoming addicted to substances.


There are several reasons why an individual becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol. Addiction depends on one or more areas of a person’s life, genetics, and experience. Specific areas include:


 - Family history

 - Personal life history

 - Genetics

 - Social environment (home and family, peers and school)

 - When a person begins using

 - How they use the drug


These six areas are the main areas that influence whether or not a person becomes an addict, how a person can become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and what contributes to a person using drugs or drinking so much that he/she becomes a drug addict or alcoholic. Each blog post in this series will focus on one of the six areas.


Drug addiction does not happen overnight. By learning that there can be many factors that contribute to how, why, when and where an individual becomes addicted to drugs or becomes an alcoholic, there is a greater understanding of a person’s situation. This should help guide you through addiction. If you are the loved one of an addict, this information can understand a little more of where he/she is coming from, manage the addict, and help him/her get on a path toward sobriety and recovery. If you are an addict yourself, understanding the reasons and steps that have lead to you to your addiction can offer valuable insight to your battle and may help you find steps and solutions that will help you take control of your own recovery and sobriety.


One of the reasons why a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol: social context and surroundings.


Social Context: How, Why


addictionKnowing about a person’s social context and surroundings is one element of substance abuse and addiction that helps explain why a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol.


The basic definition of social context, or a social environment, is “the culture that [a person] is educated and/or lives in, and the people and institutions with whom [he/she] interacts.”1 So, social context is a big term that means the family a person grew up with, the friends he/she hangs around, the school he/she goes to, the job he/she does, and the people he/she dated.


Different environments influence the way a person interacts with the world and how he/she thinks and feels about different circumstances and actions. It is not only a person’s social context that determines whether or not he/she will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. If that were the case, that would mean, no matter what type of environment a person was born in, he/she would become that way. Although the type of environment a person lives in does greatly impact his/her choices, each person ultimately has the power to choose how he or she wants to be for him/herself, no matter how good or bad the social context. 


Reasons for Addiction within Social Context


A person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol based on how he/she interacts with different social settings. For example, if you are currently a drug addict or alcoholic, think about your history with drugs and alcohol in social contexts:


 - When you were growing up, did your family drink alcohol? Did they do drugs?

 - Did they ask you to do drugs or alcohol?

 - If they did drink or do drugs, how did that make you feel?

 - Did you feel pressure to do drugs or drink alcohol?

 - If you did do drugs with your family, what was the setting like around you?

 - Did it give you a good feeling or a bad feeling?


Your family may not do or have done drugs at all. In fact, they may be extremely against using drugs or drinking alcohol. Did you begin doing drugs with your friends? Did you start trying drugs alone? What were the feelings, sensations, and experiences you had around the first time you did drugs or drank alcohol? Did it make you want to do them more? Less?


Questions like these begin to scratch the surface of the multiple pressures that an individual may currently be or may have been under from his/her family or friends to do drugs. The person also may have started doing drugs as a reaction against his/her family or friends that were against using drugs.


These questions are written out mainly to point out the many dimensions, pressures, and issues that contribute to a person’s life and the reasons why he or she may have began using drugs and become addicted. Social context is just one of the elements contributing to why a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol.


The Pain and Pleasure of Choices


In the best selling book, Awaken the Giant Within, author Anthony Robbins says that a person makes a decision based on one of two things: whether that action will give him/her pain or pleasure. Depending on the choice at hand, the person will make a decision based on pain or pleasure. After making the same choice over and over again, the person begins to form a habit. One reason why a person’s surroundings contribute to whether or not he/she uses drugs or drinks alcohol could be based on this idea of whether or not it gives him/her pain or pleasure. For example, if you begin drinking alcohol with your friends because you are at a fun party, you may be doing this because (aside from the actual effect of the alcohol) you get a sense of pleasure, belonging, or “having fun.” If you begin doing drugs against your parents’ will, you may have started doing drugs because you felt a sense of rejection or misunderstanding.


Other Questions about Social Context


This idea of a person’s instinct to make a decision based on pain or pleasure adds a second layer to the initial idea of social context. It shows that a person makes his/her own choice based on the social context he/she is in and how he/she feels in that context.


There are other elements, questions, and feelings involved in social context such as before you took drugs, were you in a setting where you felt safe or happy? Or did you feel gross and weird? These feelings could effect a person’s interaction with drugs and alcohol and may reoccur when the person continues to use.


A study published by the American Journal of Health Behavior researched how social settings of drinking are related to alcohol abuse or alcoholism and addiction.2  The study distinguished six different social contexts that college students are in when drinking alcohol: 1) drinking at a party with friends, to have a good time, 2) peer acceptance, where drinking is done to gain someone’s approval, 3) emotional pain, drinking is done to medicate negative thoughts/stressors, 4) family drinking, celebratory or religious, 5) sex seeking, drinking to build up courage or make it easier to sleep with someone, and 6) drinking in a parked or moving motor vehicle.


After analyzing the behavior of each of the students, they found that drinking in a social/party situation often lead to drinking, driving, and housing violations. Drinking in motor vehicles was often associated with alcohol abuse/dependence, and drinking in a context of emotional pain was associated with clinical depression.


The results of this study are important to understanding what social contexts an addict has been in and how these have contributed to his/her feelings, actions, and addiction. Different contexts have different associations that are multi-layered and indicate layers of possible reasons why a person is behaving the way he/she is and taking drugs.


It can be hard to understand that biological, psychological, and social contexts contribute to drug and alcohol addictions. This has been hard for many scientists to recognize.3 However, by beginning to question different elements of the past and facing these issues about places, feelings, times, and situations, you will be better prepared to figure ways to find ways out of the triggers that these contexts have created and make a stronger recovery.




1) “Social Environment.” Wikipedia. Date access: July 22, 2010.

2) Beck, K. H., Arria, A. M., Caldeira, K. M., Vincent, K. B., O’Grady, K. E., & Wish, E. D. (2008). Social context of drinking and alcohol problems among college students.American Journal of Health Behavior, 32(4), 420–430.

3) Dunbar D., Kushner, H.I., Vrecko, S. (2010). Guest Editors’ Introduction. Drugs, addiction and society, 5(2-7). v

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