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Role of Environmental Factors on Alcohol Use and Abuse

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            The use of alcohol just like other substances is learned and its maintenance (continual use) is achieved by way of developing mechanisms that ensure conditioning of the body system. There are several factors that cause people to turn to alcohol. These factors can be classified as biological, psychological and environmental factors. In our study we are going to assess the role of environmental factors in explaining the onset and maintenance of alcohol use and abuse in adults and adolescents.


            Environmental factors have been argued to play a major role in influencing the start and continual use and abuse of drugs in adults and adolescents. Environmental factors refer to the conditions and activities that surround an individual. These could be the family, peers and friends, the neighbourhood, workplace or the culture. It will be argued that each of these environmental factors influence individuals differently in the onset and maintenance of alcohol use and abuse (Abrams et al., 1987).

            We will start by looking at the environment provided by family and its role in the onset and maintenance of use of alcohol amongst individuals. For an individual to turn to alcohol as a result of family issues, the issues have to be negative. Some of these issues include family violence. Violence in families is argued to have caused most of the alcohol abuse cases (Babcock & McKay, 1995). Violent relationships between spouses for example is said to have caused most of the spouses to turn to alcohol use or abuse as a means of escapism. This goes especially for the female spouses. They turn to drinking and continuously use alcohol so that they do not feel any pain when beaten as they will be too drunk to feel anything. Domestic violence also causes the children to turn to alcohol abuse. This is because seeing their parents fight or witnessing one of their parents being buttered causes them so much stress and pain that they look for a way of relieving themselves. These adolescents usually do not stop using alcohol and eventually get addicted to it (Abrams et al., 1987). Most adolescents from families where domestic violence exist are said to be involved in alcohol abuse. It can therefore be argued that family violence plays a role in the onset and maintenance of alcohol use and abuse.

            Early childhood abuse and negligence has also caused some adolescents to start using alcohol. In this case alcohol is being used to make them forget the pain they went through during the abuse or negligence. Most adolescents who were sexually molested when they were younger or still are being molested involve themselves in alcohol use and abuse. The same goes to those who are beaten up by their guardians or parents. Those who are neglected by parents also have higher probability of turning to alcohol abuse (Ball, 1996). This is because of the effect that alcohol has on its users such that it relieves anxiety and makes them momentarily forget their problems. Lack of counselling for such young people usually results to continual dependence hence maintenance of alcohol use.

            Family interactions and systems also play a role in the onset and maintenance of alcohol use and abuse amongst individuals. It is common knowledge that interaction between individuals and other family members who use alcohol usually results to onset, continual or increased use of alcohol. This is because the more one interacts with individuals who use alcohol, the more they are influenced to also use. If the parents for example drink alcohol irresponsibly and do not see any hazards associated with it then most probably they will influence their children to start and continue using alcohol (Brown, 1993). The way a family addresses the issue of alcohol is important. Families that have systems where issues are discussed, consequences of getting involved in vices such as alcohol and substance abuse explained and the members counselled on how to make decisions usually will not influence one to turn to alcohol.

This is because they understand the consequences of the action. In the event that one of the family members starts using or abusing alcohol, the way the surrounding family members handle the issue greatly determines whether he can change and stop or will continue. It can be argued that positive response to the issue may help one change. If the family ignores the situation and assume that it is not a big deal then the individual may continue using alcohol (Tarter & Ammerman, 1998). Also if the family takes a negative approach such that instead of counselling the individual, they reproach him then he might get angry and use more alcohol.  Doing activities together such as going for picnics and other outings as a family help prevent one from turning to alcohol. It will hence be argued that family systems and interactions play a role in the onset and maintenance of alcohol abuse and use among adults and adolescents.

            Peer influence and pressure are another environmental factor that explains the onset and continual use of alcohol. Peer influence and pressure has played a very crucial role especially in alcohol use and abuse among the adolescents. This is because peer influence plays a major role in the development of one’s character, values and dictates the choices one makes. Adolescents spent more time with their peers more than they spend with anyone else.  The kind of friends one has determines the activities one involves themselves in. Young people by nature love socializing and always want to fit in a certain groups (Tarter & Ammerman, 1998). Adolescents in particular always want to satisfy that sense of belonging. This makes them to do what the other individuals in the groups they want to identify with do. In the event that the individuals in the group one wants to identify with use alcohol, then it influences one to start using alcohol so as to belong in the group. Continual association and interaction with the members of this group usually results to one continuing and maintaining the use and abuse of alcohol.

            Study has shown that there are some effects that alcohol has on its users that tend to attract other people to start using it. Some of the effects of alcohol such as increase in ones sexual performance and personal energy have influenced some individuals especially men to start using alcohol (Marlatt & Rohsenow, 1980). Observing the way other peers and friends behave after using alcohol could also influence one especially the adolescents to start using alcohol as they want to have the same feeling they see in their peers who are using alcohol (Leigh, 1989). An example is when an individual cites excitement and lack of tension where stress and anxiety is relieved that is usually caused by use of alcohol in their friends, it makes them want to try it. The fact that alcohol takes away shyness and enable one to freely socialize could also influence shy individuals who want to improve on their socialization abilities turn to using alcohol. Generally, close friendships with individuals who use alcohol always result to one being tempted to try and eventually ends up using alcohol. We can conclude that peer pressure as an environmental factor has a role in explaining the onset and maintenance use and abuse of alcohol in individuals.

            The social structures in the society which have made alcohol readily available to everyone also play a crucial role. The fact that places that sell alcoholic drinks are many and can be accessed at any time of the day or night have made it so easy for individuals to start and continue using alcohol (Behavioural Science Institute, 2009). The laws which state that alcoholic drinks should not be sold to individuals under the age of eighteen have been ignored and law enforcement officers are not strict on maintaining them. This has made it possible for adolescents to access alcohol any time they want hence start indulging in it without knowing the consequences. Continual use results to addiction hence maintenance of alcohol use and abuse (Brown, 1993). The prices of alcohol drinks are also not high. Despite the government’s effort discourage the use of alcohol by increasing taxes on the alcoholic products, the prices still are affordable. This is because the government can not afford to hurt the alcoholic manufacturing plants which provide employment to its citizens and also contribute to the economy of the country. These low prices of the drinks have made them affordable to any one who wants to use them hence enhancing the onset and maintenance use and abuse of alcohol.

            The culture that surrounds individuals where drinking of alcohol is highly encouraged has also played a role in making individuals start and continue using alcohol. Media has played a great role under culture as an environmental factor (Behavioural Science Institute, 2009). The media through airing of the adverts of alcoholic products and commercials for the producing companies has greatly influenced several people to start using alcohol (Eiser et al., 1997). These commercials which usually feature famous and influential people portray the alcoholic drinks as wonderful products that give great experience to the users when taken. The use of celebrities who are adored by adolescents in particular has greatly influenced them to use alcohol. This is because they want to identify with the celebrity being used in the advert, seeing him take the drink in the advert makes them do the same as they believe that using the same drink will make them be like him (Arif & Westermeyer, 1988).

            Some of the products aired by the media in which taking of alcohol is portrayed as a good thing have also influenced people to start using alcohol. Programs and films  in which the heroes use alcohol have had some impact especially to adolescents who at their tender age still are trying to find  an identity. This in most cases results to them copying what they see on television, using alcohol is one of the things copied from television (Madden & Heath, 2002). Other activities in the society which involve drinking of alcohol and encourage its use such as parties also influence individuals to start and maintain the use and abuse of alcohol.


            We can conclusively say that the environmental factors such as family (which includes  family issues, family system and family interactions), peer pressure and influence, alcohol accessibility and affordability, the media and social cultures in the society have played a great role in the onset and maintenance of alcohol use and abuse in adults and adolescents. As much as his is true, some of these factors can be controlled hence reduce the influence they have on making individuals engage in the use and abuse of alcohol.

List of References

Abrams D. B., Niaura, R., Blane, H. & Leonard, K. (1987). Social Learning Theory:

            Psychological Theories of Drinking and Alcoholism. New York: Guilford Press.

Arif, A. & Westermeyer, J. (1988). Manual of Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Guidelines for   Teaching in Medical and Health Institutions. New York: Plenum Medical Book        Company.

Babcock, M. & McKay, C. (Eds.). (1995). Challenging Codependency: Feminist Critiques.

            Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ball, S. A. (1996). Type A and Type B  Alcoholism: Applicability across Sub Populations and

            Treatment Settings. Alcohol Health and Research World 20(1), 30–35.

Behavioural Science Institute (2009). Developmental Psychopathology. Retrieved on 16th         April 2009 From < http://www.ru.nl/bsi/research_programmes/developmental/>

Brown, S. A. (1993).  Drug Effect Expectancies and Addictive Behavior Change. Exp Clin

            Psychopharmacol. 1:55-67. (1993).

Eiser, J.R. et al., (1997). Attitudes and Beliefs: Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health     and Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leigh, B. C. (1989).  In search of the Seven Dwarves: Issues of Measurement and Meaning in   Alcohol Expectancy Research. Psychol Bull. (1989) 105:361-73

Madden, P.A. & Heath, A.C. (2002). Shared Genetic Vulnerability in Alcohol and Cigarette      use and Dependence. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 26, 1919–           1921.

Marlatt, G. A. & Rohsenow, D. J. (1980). Cognitive Processes in Alcohol Use: Expectancy        and the Balanced Placebo Design. Greenwich: JAI Press.

Tarter, R. & Ammerman, R. (1998). Handbook of Substance Abuse: Neurobehavioral     Pharmacology. Warren, MI: Springer.

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