How Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction Have Impacted Society

When we think of a drug user, we tend to think of someone who uses illicit drugs like; marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and methamphetamines. However, according to the FDA, a drug is “A substance (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body. (‘[email protected] Glossary of Terms’, 2018)”. This means that Tylenol, birth control, blood pressure medication and other pills are considered drugs and anyone who uses them can be considered a drug user.

Drug abuse is defined as “the use of chemical substances that lead to an increased risk of problems and an inability to control the use of the substance. (‘Drug And Substance Abuse > Aging & Health A To Z > Health in Aging’, 2018)”. This means that the use of any drug, legal or not, including; alcohol, and tobacco can be abused and become an addiction.

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According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” They define addiction as a brain disease because “drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors. (‘The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics’, 2018)”

With these three definitions we can conclude that drug addiction is the excessive use of any chemical substance that impairs the bodies functions. In the following we will discuss how drug abuse and drug addiction have impacted society over the last 50 years. We will also, look at four sociological concepts; gender, race/ethnicity, education, and religiosity, and their relation to drug users and drug addiction. As well as look at, symbolic interaction’s theory of drug addiction. We will also discuss, my own views on the actions society can take to help ease the strain of addiction.

Drugs have been around for centuries, mead was first used around 8000BCE, beer and wines were used around 6000 BCE, opium, cannabis, and cocaine have been used since 2000-5000 BCE and are still very popular drugs today. Every society on earth has a form of drug use and drug abuse, it is nearly unavoidable. The first settlers in the United States, grew tobacco for local use and export for profits. (Barkan S.E, 2017) Over the last 50 years, drug abuse has both declined as well as increased, specific drugs have stabilized in use and others have increased. This trend is seen in the 2013 NSDUH survey, approximately 67,800 Americans responded to this survey. The results of the NSDHU’s survey revealed that approximately 24.6 million Americans over the age of 12 had used an illicit drug in the past month, marijuana use has increased 5.8 percent, methamphetamine use has increased from 353,000 in 2010 to 595,000 in 2013, while cocaine use has declined from 2.4 million users to around 1.5 million users. (‘The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics’, 2018).

In 2013, 2.8 million Americans admitted to using an illicit drug, and indicated what drug that initiated their addiction. In the chart above, we can see that 70.3% of drug users started with marijuana, 12.5% started with prescription pain killers, 6.3% started with inhalants, 5.2% started with tranquilizers, and the remaining 5.6% started by using stimulants, hallucinogens, sedatives and cocaine. With these numbers we can conclude that marijuana and prescription drugs are the most common “gateway” drug. Drug use is higher in people in their late teens and early twenties, this is most likely due to the party scene that is sweeping the nation, and the portrayal of drug use in main stream media, however we will discuss this later. (‘The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics’, 2018)

Drug addiction is defined as a disease and like all disease it can affect anyone, no matter the sex, race, education, or religion. There are, however, some traits that a person may have that makes them more susceptible to addiction. Studies have shown that men are more likely than females to use drugs and alcohol, this can be seen the following graph:

It is suspected that men are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, because they are raised to be more assertive and have less concern for the consequences of their actions. Crime rates are also higher among men than women, and the majority of violent crimes are conducted by drug users.

Chronic drug users also tend to have impulsive and sensation- seeking personality traits, however, it is unclear if these traits are a cause of drug use or an effect of drug use. In a 2010, research study, 5 researchers gathered a group of stimulant-dependent individuals and their biological siblings who did not have a history of drug use. The study also, gathered 30 unrelated, nondrug- users as a control model. This study asked the participants to self-report their levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking behavior. The results showed that siblings of drug users reported higher levels of impulsivity, than the control group, while the stimulant-dependent users reported higher levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking behavior compared to both their siblings and the control group. (Ersche, Turton, Pradhan, Bullmore & Robbins, 2010)

From the results of this study and the sociological concept of gender in drug addiction, we can see that young men between the ages of 16-25 are at highest risk of using drugs, and that risk becomes higher if they have a close relative who is or was an addict. These men, and even women, tend to have higher levels of impulsivity and find it hard to turn down new things.

On the other hand, women are more likely to use prescription pain killers. This is thought to be because women are prescribed more drugs than men, when going to the doctor. This may be due in part to the idea of masculinity, where if a man is in pain he can just “tough it out”, but women are seen as frail and need more support through medical professionals.

In the media today, we tend to think of drug users as violent African-Americans, but that is not entirely true. Yes, African-American’s do use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; however, so do whites, Native Americans, Asians and every other race and ethnicity. White men have the highest rate of alcohol abuse, while Native Americans have the highest rate of tobacco use. We see these differences, mostly due to how each race and society was raised. According to Social Problems: Continuity and Change, whites and African-Americans have approximately the same rate of illegal drug use, but whites have higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use.

Racism has always played a large role in the way that we see illicit drugs. In the early 20th century, as noted before, cocaine and opioids, were used by nearly everyone, and endorsed by some of the greatest scientific minds of the era, for example: Sigmund Freud. Cocaine was advertised as a sweetener, an anesthetic, and an aphrodisiac; however, as the dangerous effects of cocaine become undeniable the people wanted a “scapegoat”, someone to blame for the use of cocaine. At the time, the only people who could be targeted were newly freed slaves. This set the stage for the picture we see today when someone talks about drug addiction. The New York Times, published an article in 1914 that was titled “Negro Cocaine Fiend” which demoralized African-Americans and blamed the race for the effects of cocaine. This article went on to blame African-Americans use of cocaine for a rise in crime, especially toward white women. Even though race and ethnicity has no bearing on the effects of cocaine, or any other drug. However, the damage from this article had already been done, and we are still seeing the effects of it today.

Now, today we still view African-Americans as dangerous drug addicts, this is seen in the high rate of African American arrests. In 2013, African-Americans and Hispanics made up 29% of the American population, however, in prison they make up 75% of the inmate population. In 2012, the US Sentencing Commission, stated that African-American and Hispanics, get longer sentences for drug related offenses compared to whites with the same offenses. (Centers, 2018)

With these statistics, we can see that Whites have the highest rate of overall addiction, and white men tend to be at the forefront of that. However, white men also have the lowest rates of conviction for drug related offenses. This is because of the history of the war on drugs, whites have continued to blame other races, specifically Hispanics and African-Americans, causing an educational gap about drugs. The more that whites try to hide and blame other races for their own drug use and the consequences of those actions, the more we will find our selves in an endless cycle of addiction.

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How Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction Have Impacted Society. (2021, Jun 09). Retrieved from