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Alcoholism and drug abuse among teenagers is a social, behavioral and psychological issue that continues to attract the attention of psychologists, sociologists and other behavioral scientists. The aftermath of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers is often associated with antisocial, delinquent and criminal behaviors (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). These, coupled with the adverse mental and psychological consequences of drugs and alcohol abuse, contribute to the disintegration and erosion of the social fabrics of the society (Chavis & Grohol, 2010). This paper will adopt sociological perspectives in explaining the influences of race and family economic status on teenagers’ drug and alcohol abuse behavior. The paper will thus draw heavily on sociological ideas and theoretical frameworks in a bid to illustrate the relevance of racial inclinations and family economic status in explaining drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers.
Race and Drug and Alcohol Abuse amongst Teenagers
Generally speaking, there is no objective study that has established that one race or any cultural group is more vulnerable or prone to drug and alcohol abuse than the other. Drug and alcohol abuse is largely considered to be a social problem affecting teenagers across all the racial, ethnic and cultural boundaries (Christerson, Edwards, Flory, 2010). However, the question of race becomes relevant when racial inclination of an individual teenager is combined with other implicit factors that determine the prevalence of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). In this case, race is not expressly connected to the prevalence of drug and substance abuse amongst teenagers.
The relationship between race and drug and alcohol abuse has attracted various studies. Although the relationship between alcoholism and drug abuse and racial factors still remains unclear, many studies have been conducted (Christerson et al, 2010). In such studies, race was put as a dependent variable and age as an independent variable. The results indicated that there exists a relationship between race and drug and alcohol abuse, albeit small (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009).
The prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers of the same racial background depends on various factors. These include the level of protection that teenagers received from the parents and the models in their environment. These studies thus indicate that the social environment, more than the racial background of a teenager, was more relevant in determining the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse (Christerson et al, 2010). This finding indicates that whereas race may be a factor in drug and alcohol abuse, the social environment within which an individual teenager’s race is based is more significant. This social environment that reinforces abuse of drugs and alcohol is a consequence of social inequality that may exist in the society (Christerson et al, 2010).
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According to the interactionist’s perspective, the symbols and meanings that a particular race attaches to alcohol and drug use may contribute to the differences in the level of alcohol and drug abuse. For example, in a race where alcohol and drug use is applauded and esteemed, teenagers are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol (Chavis & Grohol, 2010). Therefore as values differ from one racial group to another, the levels of abuse of drugs and alcohol also differ across the races (Chavis & Grohol, 2010). It is thus the differences in meanings attached to drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers from different racial backgrounds that influence teenage abuse of drugs and alcohol.
In separate study that is connected to race as a factor is drug and alcohol abuse, discrimination was found to significantly contribute to prevalence of drug abuse amongst teenagers (Christerson et al, 2010). For example, among the minority Hispanic racial groups, it was established that as racial discrimination increased, the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse also increased. Christerson et al (2010) observed that the findings of this study indicate that race was not expressly the cause of drugs and alcohol abuse but rather the social inequalities associated with racial inclinations of teenagers was the factor in play.
Discrimination based on race is more relevant in analyzing the relationship between race and drugs and alcohol abuse. For example, Black-American teenagers that were victims of racial discrimination were more likely to resort to drug and alcohol abuse to express their frustration and hopelessness unlike their White-American counterparts (Christerson et al, 2010). This was also the case with the black South-Africans during the era of apartheid.
In a study aimed at determining the prevalence of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst the whites’ teenagers and the non-whites, it was established that white teens generally abused drugs and alcohol more than the other racial and ethnic groups (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). However, an analysis of the data collected indicated the social structures of the family, and not the race, were more responsible for the racial differences in the rates of drugs and substance. More studies have established that white teenagers spent more time with their peers. They therefore had very few family restrictions with regard to regular drugs and substance abuse. On the same note, it was established that the Asian-American and the African-Americans teenagers were least likely to engage in drugs and substance abuse (Christerson et al, 2010).
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The fact that there is generally heterogeneity of norms and values amongst different racial groups explains the cause for the difference in the prevalence rates of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers. Christerson et al (2010) cited that among the Asian-American teens, the values and norms are more liberal to drugs and substance abuse amongst teens. However, the teens abstain from drug and alcohol use despite the fact that the peers could be highly drug-dependent. The cause for the difference is to be found in the role of the parents in the behavior of the teens (Christerson et al, 2010). The Asian-American parents seemed to be in more control of the teenagers’ behaviors and strictly sanctioned drugs and substance abuse amongst the teenagers.
The conflict theory of social inequality as espoused by Weber clearly explains how the differences in the social structure of families among teenagers of different racial backgrounds influence the prevalence of drugs and alcohol abuse. According to this theory, the Asian-American teens are less likely to fall victims of peer pressure, to use drugs and alcohol, because of the respect accorded to the parents and the sanctions associated with drugs and substance abuse among teenagers. This accounts fro the racial differences in teenage uptake of drugs and alcohol abuse. Chavis & Grohol (2010) contends separately that the weaker the social structures and values on human behavior, the higher the likelihood of behavioral slip into moral decadence. Teens from races with weaker family structures are therefore likely to fall victims of peer influence and drug and alcohol abuse (Chavis & Grohol, 2010).
Family Economic Status/Position and Teenage Drugs and Alcohol Abuse
Social inequalities have a relationship with drug and alcohol abuse amongst teens. Family economic status is a social inequality issue with a conceptual relation to drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers. Hanson & Chen (2007) cited that the families that are at the bottom in the hierarchy of social stratification are likely to have teenagers who are vulnerable to drugs and alcohol abuse. This is the sociological perspective on the relationship between socioeconomic status and drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers.
Families that are at the bottom in the hierarchy of social stratification are characterized by unemployment, low-status, unstable family structures and relationships, and subjection to the forces of alienation from the larger society. Therefore, members of such families including teenagers often have low achievement index relative to the families in the higher levels of the social stratification hierarchy. The feelings of hopelessness and despair amongst teenagers from families with low socioeconomic status are responsible for the increased drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teens (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009).
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Studies have been conducted to establish the correlation between economic status of the family and teenage drug and alcohol abuse. The results of such studies have found a positive correlation between teenage drug and alcohol abuse and the family economic status (Hanson & Chen, 2007). As the socioeconomic status of the families improve upwards, the rates of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers decline. The findings of these studies therefore indicate that low socioeconomic status of the family greatly contributes to the prevalence of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009).
Sociological literature on the relationship between economic status and drug and alcohol abuse exists. According to such literature, teenagers from poor households are more vulnerable to social ills including drug abuse (Hanson & Chen, 2007). As a result of the frustration and hopelessness in life, such teenagers end up joining other peers in the urban ghettos. According to Sutherland’s differential association theory of behavioral deviation, it such associations that introduce teens to drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers from the low class families in the social strata (Hanson & Chen, 2007). Therefore, low socioeconomic status exposes teens to negative peer influences or associations. It is the peer influence that causes drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers.
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Families that are rated low in the social strata are often unstable and sometimes dysfunctional. The parents from such families first become vulnerable to drugs and alcohol abuse out of despair and hopelessness caused by the forces of social stratification. According to Marxist’s conflict theory, the feeling of alienation pushes individuals from poor households to odd ends. The frustration caused by alienation leads such individuals to resort to drug abuse and alcoholism as a coping strategy. Teenagers from such families therefore lack parental guidance and role model since the parents are already given to drugs and substance abuse. As a result, the teenagers often acquire drug and alcohol abuse through social/observational learning.
Albert Bandura contended that behavior can be learnt through observation (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). This theory is reflected in the manner in which teenagers acquire drug use and alcoholism from the poor modeling they receive from parents who are given to alcoholism and chronic levels of drug abuse. Lower socioeconomic status of the family therefore predisposes teenagers to more risky patterns of drug and alcohol abuse not only as a strategy for coping with poverty and its frustrations but also due to the reinforcement that family structures give to such behaviors. Therefore most of the studies conducted have found a correlation between socioeconomic status of the family and drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers.
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It is worth noting that low-class families are often stratified by the larger society. As a result, the values and social norms of such families are often disintegrated from the conventional norms and values of the larger society. As this happens, the likelihood of social deviation amongst members of the families subjected to the forces of social stratification increases. This pattern accounts for the increase in the rates of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers from poor households (Ritter & Chalmers, 2011). As structures of socialization and social control become weaker amongst low economic status families, moral decadence and erosion amongst the teens also increases. This explains the rise in drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers from the low socioeconomic status households.
Economic slowdowns in the family determine the functioning of the family as a social unit. Therefore, when a family becomes dysfunctional as result of poverty, the impact spreads across the demographic composition of the family as a unit. Alcoholism and drug abuse amongst teenagers thus increases as teens struggle to cope with the frustrations and difficulties caused by unemployment, parental neglect, inadequate access to education and resources. As more and more teenagers become idle, more energy and time is left for them to engage in more deviant and antisocial behavioral tendencies. Such social deviations thus originate from low family socioeconomic status and spreads down to expose teenagers to drugs and alcohol abuse (Hanson & Chen, 2007).
Lower socioeconomic status of the family increases the prevalence of drug abuse and alcoholism amongst teenagers. This is largely due to the fact that lower socioeconomic status causes other negative factors that further contribute to increase in proneness and vulnerability of teens to drugs and substance abuse (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009). For example, extreme levels of poverty caused by the forces of social stratification are responsible for broken families. As families disintegrate as a result of social exclusion or economic alienation, teenagers become more vulnerable to drugs and alcohol uptake (Ritter & Chalmers, 2011). Such teenagers are likely to resort to drugs in the process of adjusting and fitting within a new social class that is already exposed to extreme levels of drugs and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism.
Low economic status in families directly correlates to poor child social welfare. This implies that as the family becomes less able to cater for the welfare of its members and effectively socialize them, they become vulnerable to negative socialization from other agents of socialization. In a study conducted on the role of the family as an agent of socialization and social control, it was established that as the family values become weak due to weak socioeconomic structures of the family, children are more likely to be victimized than adults (Ritter & Chalmers, 2011). The rates of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers is therefore likely to increase in the low socioeconomic status families due to the consequent frustrations that such low socioeconomic conditions, caused by social stratification, are likely to elicit.
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There are different variables surrounding explanation of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers. These variables cannot be exclusively limited to race and the economic status or position of the family. Most of the studies that have been conducted have established that whereas race and socioeconomic status of the family contribute to the occurrence of drugs and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers, there are other social factors that contribute to this phenomenon. The causes of drugs and substance abuse amongst teens are thus intertwined and closely related.
In exploring the racial differences in the prevalence rates of drugs and substance abuse amongst teens, more objective approach needs to be considered so that the outcome of such studies are not unnecessarily stereotypical but rather very empirical. The case applies to studies related to the relationship between socioeconomic status of the family and teenage drug and alcohol abuse. However, there is general consensus that differences in the prevalence rates of drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers exist.
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