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The Social Causes of Addiction

by Landmark Recovery

October 26, 2020
Social Causes of Addiction

Updated: May 22, 2023

While addiction to drugs or alcohol can be viewed through many lenses, the risk factors cannot be conclusively pinned to one particular cause. The biopsychosocial-spiritual model broadly categorizes the underlying causes of addiction as follows:

  • Biological causes
  • Psychological causes
  • Socio-cultural causes
  • Spirituality causes

Further complicating the search for a reason to explain addiction is the way these areas are all interrelated. With so much overlap and with so many factors contributing to addiction, it’s tough to know where to point the finger. This difficulty is intensified because every individual case is unique.

Why is it that society is in any way responsible for an individual’s behavior, then?

Want to learn more about how substance abuse and mental health are connected? Explore our informative pillar page for detailed insights. For all-in-one treatment options, reach out to Landmark Recovery at 888-448-0302. We’re here to support you.

Why Do Social Factors Affect Addiction?

A woman sitting and wondering what social factors affect addiction

Cultural beliefs and influences can play a role in the way addiction to drugs or alcohol develops.

For centuries, widespread addiction was rare even if people still used alcohol and drugs. Young people were typically not subject to the early onset of any addictive disorder.

Why, then, did this change take place to the extent that fully 10% of Americans have had a drug use disorder at some point, and 12% of Americans have alcohol use disorder? It certainly seems unlikely that there was a dramatic shift in the gene pool in such a relatively short time span.

Instead, many of the socio-cultural factors that once acted as a buffer between individuals and widespread addiction have become weaker over time. Discipline in schools has diminished while the traditional family unit is not so traditional any longer.

The impact of socio-cultural influences is such a strong factor in an addiction developing because the shared values and beliefs of any group always guide the behavior and actions of its members. If a culture is tolerant of drinking or drug use, all members of that culture become more susceptible to addiction.

Family is the strongest social influence; children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol learn from them and may view that type of behavior as the norm. With more broken families than in previous generations, and more people abusing substances, the vicious cycle continues.

Where psychology is concerned with individual behavior, sociology looks at the behavior of groups – from families and organizations to cultures and societies at large. From the sociological perspective, then, you can only properly understand addiction when viewed within the context of those groups in which it occurs.

Now, before we highlight the major social causes of addiction in general terms, we will first examine a handful of ways in which addiction and recovery can be viewed in very different ways.

Two therapists talking about different addiction therapy models

5 Models of Addiction and Recovery

  1. General Systems Theory
  2. Public Health Model
  3. Sociocultural Model
  4. Spiritual Model
  5. Temperance Model

1) General Systems Theory

General systems theory holds that the social systems surrounding an individual trigger addiction.

The bedrock of this theory is that every system wants harmony and balance. While most individuals in any group conform to the status quo, some will always disrupt the equilibrium. Here, systems theory maintains that the system itself will keep things ticking over.

Trying to improve the system – with our goal at Landmark Recovery to help one million people recover from addiction as an example – is the antithesis of systems theory.

2) Public Health Model

The public health model places a firm focus on the overall health of the general public, whereas our traditional healthcare model is centered on the health of each individual.

According to this model, any threat to public health needs three things:

  1. A susceptible host (a person)
  2. A host
  3. A supportive environment

Where once this triangular model was applied solely to infectious diseases, it now encompasses addictions, too.

3) Sociocultural Model

The sociocultural model poses that the cultural standards of any society – specifically, the negative influences of any culture on the way individuals behave – cause addiction.

Think of the way drinking is viewed in the U.S. Not only is drinking, even getting drunk, tolerated, it’s often a source of amusement. Even if you’re arrested for a DUI, you’ll likely escape any serious punishment for a first offense. Contrast this with life in middle-eastern societies where drinking alcohol is certainly not openly tolerated.

Does addiction occur because larger systems make it permissible? It does, according to the sociocultural model.

4) Spiritual Model

Any spiritual model assumes addiction occurs due to a separation from the God of that belief system.

This outdated standpoint also assumes a standardized morality based on a given set of values. These values obviously differ widely from culture to culture.

5) Temperance Model

Does simply being exposed to addictive substances lead to possible addiction? The temperance model contends that exposure to such substances is universally dangerous.

Per this model, the only way society can meaningfully eradicate addiction is to eliminate these substances entirely. In a few words: This isn’t realistic.

A group of friends spending time together. Sometimes social activities can lead to addiction

What Are The Social Factors Influencing Drug Abuse?

Having established the many ways in which society and culture impact addiction, what broader social reasons compel some people to drink or use drugs to excess?

  • Bonding and Socializing
  • Community
  • Lifestyle
  • Rebellion
  • Stress Relief

Bonding and Socializing

For many teens, interacting with peers can be painful, while interacting with adults can seem outright intimidating. The stress of socializing is strongly associated with drinking or using drugs as a coping mechanism.

Think about most social gatherings of groups of friends. Chances are, there will be alcohol on the menu. With that, many people feel less anxious, more confident, and far less worried about rejection. When used in excess, though, the effects tend to be far less positive socially.

Marijuana can also relax users, while cocaine can help some people become an active presence where they would otherwise have faded into the background. Again, both of these substances can act in the opposite way, particularly when abused.


Using alcohol or drugs can help some people, especially those on the margins of society, to feel a sense of belonging.

Peer pressure is the main driving force behind young people using drugs or alcohol. Despite the significance of peer pressure as a factor for addiction, this does nothing to diminish the importance of forming healthy relationships with others.


Peer pressure has historically been one of the primary social drivers for addiction, but the power of marketing is becoming more powerful all the time.

The hip-hop industry in particular markets the idea of hedonism, drinking, and drug abuse set against a backdrop of street violence and drug dealing as a desirable state of affairs. Many impressionable youngsters might see this as a disregard for structure and responsibility. When faced with an uber-appealing image designed to shift record sales and merchandise, teens likely would not consider the negative effects.


The age-old desire to rebel certainly leads some adolescents to drink and use drugs.

Fortunately, this is one area that can be effectively treated with Dialectical Behaviorial Therapy (DBT (DBT).

Stress Relief

Pouring a beer or rolling a joint helps many people to deal with the everyday stressors they encounter.

Anyone who starts reflexively using drink or drugs to deal with stress is certainly liable to develop a more serious problem.

Various forms of relaxation, from yoga and meditation to guided breathing exercises, can be used to relieve stress to a greater extent. Counseling and stress-management can also work well.

What To Do When You Have an Addiction

Whatever the underlying nuances, it’s impossible to underestimate the various ways in which social reasons can contribute to addiction. Ultimately, though, every individual is different. If you’re at the stage where alcohol or drugs are creating serious problems in your life, you’ve got plenty of time to get to the bottom of why your life is unraveling. The only way you’ll gain the clarity to start that process is by starting the road to recovery.

The good news is: You don’t need to do this alone. Reach out to the Admissions Team at Landmark Recovery, and we’ll get you right back on track whether you need residential rehab or an intensive outpatient program. Call us today at 888-448-0302.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.