Psychological Influences on Drug Use

Most of us have probably given in to peer pressure at some point in our lives.  Maybe we changed our hair to be more like others or we chose to change our clothes.  Sometimes our own mental and psychological states influence our choices. But what happens when these psychological and social-cultural influences affect our decisions to do drugs or not?

Psychological Influences on Drug Use Psychological Influences on Drug Use

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Table of contents
    • What are psychological and social-cultural influences?
    • What are psychological influences on behavior?
    • What are some examples of psychological influences?
    • What is the definition of normative social influence in psychology?
    • What is the definition of informal social influences in psychology?

    Psychological and Social-Cultural Influences on Drug Use

    When a person decides to consume drugs, it can be the result of several psychological influences such as their mental state, feelings, or emotions. They may lack a sense of purpose. Or maybe they are in a season in their lives when they are dealing with a significant amount of stress. Other times, they may be struggling with some type of psychological disorder such as depression and decide to use drugs to cope with their symptoms. Psychological factors can play a large role in a person's decision to use drugs.

    Other times, a person's environment and social-cultural influences will impact their decision to use substances. Social-cultural influences can be especially impactful in an adolescent's life. During this time, we care a lot about what our peers think about us. We're also usually egocentric during adolescence.

    Egocentrism is the tendency for a person to believe that everyone is paying attention to everything they are doing (even though it's more likely they are paying more attention to their own behaviors).

    Social-cultural influences can come in several different forms: modeling (copying parents, friends, peers, siblings), perceived norms of behavior, school policies (restricting or enforcing prohibited drug use), media representations, or legal policies (legal drinking age, cigarette tax). Social-cultural influences can come from any direction. If a person is in a difficult environment (i.e. abuse), has a negative peer influence, or believes it is culturally accepted to use drugs, this can play a large role in their decision to use them.

    Psychological Influences on Behavior

    Psychological factors include motivation, perception, learning, and attitude (beliefs). Psychological influences on behavior play a large role in a person's decision to use (or quit) drugs. Many people who choose to use drugs may have thoughts that lead to them feeling as though their lives are meaningless or directionless. It may be common for school dropouts who may have similar feelings about their lives. Girls who have a history of eating disorders, depression, or sexual and physical abuse may also be more at risk for substance use.

    Psychological Influences on Drug Use, female therapist touching female patient shoulder, StudySmarterAdditional therapy for other mental health conditions, Pikwizard.com

    People may find themselves using drugs to avoid coping with or dulling their psychological pain. In fact, substance use commonly occurs (or is co-morbid) with other mental disorders. Many times, people who are being treated for substance use are also being treated for another mental health condition. Substance use itself can lead to psychological disturbances in a person's social, spiritual, and emotional well-being.

    People being treated for substance use disorder may be treated for depression or anxiety as well.

    Psychological factors can also influence a person's decision to stop using substances. One of the main predictors of whether or not a person will stop using substances is their motivation to stop using substances. This is often a primary focus in treating substance abuse disorders. If a person is not ready or motivated to stop using drugs, it is very unlikely that they will. Counselors will often use a large amount of time in therapy helping a person decide what motivates them to change their lives and stop using drugs.

    Other psychological influences on a person's decision to stop using drugs include feelings of happiness or high self-esteem. A person might feel no need to use substances because they discovered they feel better or happier without them. Or maybe they have such high esteem for themselves and their bodies that they decide they want to treat themselves respectfully by no longer partaking in substances.

    Examples of Psychological Influences on Drug Use

    Other psychological influences examples can be seen in children whose parents abused substances and are at greater risk of using substances later in their lives. If you watched your parents cope with stress by drinking and never saw them use healthy coping strategies, you might find yourself doing the same later in life. Drinking is the only coping strategy you've learned.

    Psychological Influences on Drug Use, man chained to alcohol bottle, StudySmarterAddiction, Freepik.com

    Also, substance use and parental abuse or neglect commonly occur together. This can be a significant psychological influence. To deal with past trauma or to fill the void of not always having their parents around, a person might turn to drugs to feel better. The only thing is that a substance is only a temporary fix, and running away from your problems will never make them go away and may cause even more psychological distress in the end.

    Normative Social Influence Psychology Definition

    Social-cultural influences may impact us for many reasons. One of the most common types of social influences a person may face with drug use is normative social influence.

    Normative social influence refers to a situation in which a person changes their behavior, thoughts, or values because they want to be accepted by others and don't want to be left out or appear foolish.

    Normative social influence seems to occur most frequently during adolescence. Adolescence is a time in which the opinion of our peers has a significant effect on our behavior. The last thing we want is to look or feel like an outcast. As a result, we conform. We alter our actions and demeanor so we will be more liked by our others. The more we care about a person, the more we will be influenced by their opinion of us.

    Cigarette companies use this concept to their advantage. If they can make it look cool or culturally accepted to smoke, they may be able to convince a few teens that they have to smoke to fit in. Teens typically start smoking if their friends also smoke. Social pressure to consume alcohol usually occurs at parties thrown by your peers.

    If you arrive at a party and everyone is smoking and drinking, you may feel pressure to do the same so you don't feel left out.

    Psychological Influences on Drug Use, pretty woman smoking cigarette, StudySmarterCigarette companies try to make smoking look cool, Freepik.com

    Normative social influences can be at play even if we perceive that certain behavior is socially acceptable. For example, all your friends actually might not want to use drugs. But since you perceive that they do (and they perceive that you do), you feel pressured to partake as well and vice versa. Normative social influences are often based on perception rather than reality.

    Normative social influences are not only at play in a person's choice to use drugs but also in a person's choice not to use drugs. For example, alcohol and other drug addiction rates are commonly lower among religious people (DeWall et al., 2014). If it is not socially acceptable in your social group to use drugs, it is much less likely for you to use them for fear of rejection.

    Informational Social Influence Psychology Definition

    It is easy to confuse the informational social influence psychology definition with the normative social influence definition.

    Informational social influence refers to a situation in which a person changes their behavior, thoughts, or values because they believe the group knows best.

    The clearest difference between informational and normative social influence is that if a normative social influence is at play, people will change their behavior regardless of how accurate or "right" they think the group is. All your friends may decide to go egg someone's car. You know it's not the right thing to do but you do it anyway because you are too afraid of being outcasted.

    If an informational social influence is at play, you only go along with it because you believe the group knows something you don't know and they must be right.

    If you walk into a room and everyone is sitting down with their eyes closed, you may think they are doing so for a reason you are unaware of. So you sit down and close your eyes as well.

    It's important to pay attention to a person's intentions when evaluating what type of social influence a person is experiencing. If you decide not to do drugs because your religious group says it's wrong and you believe they know what is right, this is an informational social influence. If you decide not to do drugs because you're afraid you'll be rejected by your religious group because drug use is frowned upon, then this is a normative social influence.

    Psychological and Social-Cultural Influences - Key takeaways

    • When a person decides to consume drugs, it can be the result of several psychological influences such as their mental state, feelings, or emotions. Other times, a person's environment and social-cultural influences will impact their decision to use substances. Social-cultural influences can be especially impactful in an adolescent's life.
    • Psychological factors include motivation, perception, learning, and attitude (beliefs).
    • People may find themselves using drugs to avoid coping with or dulling their psychological pain. In fact, substance use commonly occurs (or is co-morbid) with other mental disorders. Many times, people who are being treated for substance use are also being treated for another mental health condition.
    • Normative social influence refers to a situation in which a person changes their behavior, thoughts, or values because they want to be accepted by others and don't want to be left out or appear foolish.
    • Informational social influence refers to a situation in which a person changes their behavior, thoughts, or values because they believe the group knows best.

    References

    1. DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., Jr., Carter, E. C., McCullough, M. E., Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Nezlek, J. B. (2014). Explaining the relationship between religiousness and substance use: Self-control matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 339–351. (pp. 471, 831)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Psychological Influences on Drug Use

    What are psychological influences?

    Many people who choose to use drugs may have thoughts that lead to them feeling as though their lives are meaningless or directionless.

    What are psychological factors?

    Psychological factors include motivation, perception, learning, and attitude (beliefs).

    What are examples of psychological influences?

    Psychological factors can also influence a person's decision to stop using substances. One of the main predictors of whether or not a person will stop using substances is their motivation to stop using substances.

    What is the meaning of psychological factors?

    When a person decides to consume drugs, it can be the result of several psychological influences such as their mental state, feelings, or emotions. They may lack a sense of purpose. Or maybe they are in a season in their lives when they are dealing with a significant amount of stress

    What are psychosocial behaviors?

    Psychosocial behaviors are the mental activities and behaviors of an individual directed toward a group as well as their interaction with and attitudes toward that group.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is not an example of social-cultural influences? 

    True or False? Many times, people who are being treated for substance use are also being treated for another mental health condition.

    What is one of the main psychological predictors of whether or not a person will stop using substances? 

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