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Sociocultural Model of Addiction and Recovery Implications

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

According to the sociocultural model, the cultural standards of a society and the negative effects of culture and society on individual behavior, cause addiction. Many cultural standards are quite subtle but the effect is powerful nonetheless. For example, people in the United States not only tolerate intoxication, but also consider it humorous. Audiences find it entertaining when television sit-coms, movies, and comedians depict intoxicated characters in a humorous manner. Furthermore, in many states the police may arrest you for drunk driving several times before any severe consequence occurs. Contrast this to a hypothetical society that executes its' citizens for a single instance of drunk driving. This rather extreme example illustrates addiction arises because larger systems permit it.

Addiction may also be an effect of culture. Within every region of the United States there are entire communities living in poverty. These impoverished communities have fewer opportunities to advance in life and experience higher crime rates. Lacking basic safety and opportunities for a better life, boredom and frustration run high. Daily living becomes stressful as day-to-day survival becomes more challenging. These circumstances create an environment that allows addiction to flourish.

Questions for personal reflection from the sociocultural model: Regardless of what culture I identify with, in what ways has my culture shaped my attitude toward addiction? What are the norms of my culture toward intoxication? What changes do we need to make to stop promoting addiction? What can we do instead to discourage it? How do we accomplish these changes? For instance, addiction in impoverished areas declines when residents have better opportunities for advancement. Alcohol consumption goes down with higher taxes (which raise the price), less availability (by restricting where and when it can be sold), and fewer advertisements.