If individual responsibility has any meaning, then a person suffering from addiction bears responsibility for his or her recovery, once the opportunity for recovery is presented. However, we are all products of our respective cultures, and there is a fair argument that culture can be a contributor to the dynamics of addiction.
To anyone who says, “Well, drug use is an individual problem; most people either choose not to start or find a way to moderate their use,” we could point out that there are cultures where addiction is unknown, and others where it is minimal. Similarly, there are cultures that have an extremely high incidence of alcoholism and addiction. A clear example would be Native Americans, who did not exhibit a particular tendency toward alcohol or substance abuse when their primary challenges were dealing with survival in nature and the occasional skirmish with rival tribes. Once European culture encroached on the land and relentlessly marginalized Native Americans, the stresses imposed on the culture expressed themselves in—among other things—a predisposition for alcohol and substance abuse. One Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article states that a “crucial individual motive is that drunkenness can provide short-cut gratification by providing fantasy solutions to culture-bound problems.”
There are a number of ways in which culture contributes to addiction. These include the following:
- Peer pressure to conform among adolescents
- Stressors in the social environment of adolescents
- Popular culture and its promotion of alcohol as glamorous
- Advertising and its promotion of alcohol use
- Advertising by the pharmaceutical industry and its promotion of the idea that drugs are a cure-all for all manner of psychic symptoms, especially depression and anxiety
- The criminalization of drug use, such that drug users, once involved with the criminal justice system, become labeled and marginalized, usually becoming exactly what the system ostensibly wants to prevent.
- Treatment availability – A culture’s ongoing preference for treating addiction as a problem of criminal behavior rather than as a public health issue determines that individuals needing medical help are instead locked up. In terms of cost as well as effectiveness, treatment offers tremendous benefits over incarceration, which tends to reinforce, rather than reduce, tendencies toward further substance abuse and consequent criminal behavior.
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