Dace S Svikis Roy W Pickens

Psychoanalytic Perspective Increased vulnerability to Alcohol and drugs is related to the coming together of a number of influences, each of which is itself of varying strength. Our biologies, our individual social and cultural settings and backgrounds, our personal idiosyncratic life experiences, and the persons we become as a result of all these may contribute to the likelihood of our using drugs—and then of our continuing to use them. We are neither vulnerable nor invulnerable to using drugs or alcohol, nor to using them to excess; vulnerability is a continuum, ranging from least to most vulnerable. Under the right, or the wrong, circumstances, many of us will use drugs.

Alcoholism runs in families; if an individual's parent, grandparent, or sibling is alcoholic, that individual's own risk is significantly increased. It seems certain that an important contributor to this in many families is Genetic. While we find a similar increase in the frequency of substance abuse in the children of parents who use all sorts of drugs, we do not yet have evidence that this too is genetic. Certainly, another contributor to this familial pattern is the exposure that a developing child has to the sight and experience of a parent or other important figure in the environment using alcohol and/or other drugs. It tells the child that this is acceptable behavior, particularly if the surrounding social culture echoes that opinion. Cultures and subcultures that traditionally control drinking generally produce people who drink in a controlled way; cultures and subcultures that condone excess also reproduce themselves.

It is important to remember, however, that even those with a strong genetic loading for alcoholism can only become a ''practicing'' alcoholic if they have alcohol available. Despite its many problems, Prohibition (1920-1933) reduced the number of alcoholics; successful interdiction of drugs would reduce the number of substance abusers. However, growing up in an area where drugs are freely available increases the likelihood of trying them and— assuming community complacence or peer approval and encouragement—of continuing to take them. For example, during the war in Vietnam, many U.S. soldiers who had not been Opiate addicts found themselves in the war zone, exposed to Stress and personal danger, and surrounded by cheap available Heroin in a context that condoned its use. Many became addicted. On their return home, however, almost all gave up their drug use with relative ease.

We also know that the person one is—the kind of personality one has—also plays a role in one's susceptibility to using and misusing drugs. A number of studies suggest that maladjustment precedes the use of illicit drugs; the closer one is in style to an Eagle Boy Scout, the less likely one is to use drugs. Rebelliousness, stress on independence, apathy, pessimism, Depression, low self-esteem, and low academic aspirations and motivation make the use of illicit drugs more likely. Delinquent and deviant behavior come before the drug use; they are not the result of it.

(See also: Causes of Substance Abuse: Psychological (Psychoanalytic) Perspective; Conduct Disorder and Drug Use; Families and Drug Use; Religion and Drug Use)


Bohman, M., Sigvardsson, S., & Cloninger, C. R.

(1981). Maternal inheritance of alcohol abuse. Archives of General Psychiatry, 38, 965-969. CHEIN, I., ET AL. (1964). The road to H: Narcotics, delinquency, and social policy. New York: Basic Books.

Cloninger, C. R., Bohman, M., & Sigvardsson, S. (1981). Inheritance of alcohol abuse. Archives of General Psychiatry, 38, 861-868.

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