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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?


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 drink 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 space of time.


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 addiction developing as 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 with children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol learning from them and viewing that type of behavior as the norm. With more broken families than in previous generations, and more people abusing substances, so the vicious cycle continues.


Where psychology is concerned with individual behavior, sociology looks at the behavior of groups from families and organizations through 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, a glimpse first at a handful of ways in which addiction and recovery can be viewed in very different ways…


5 Models of Addiction and Recovery

Two therapists talking about different addiction therapy models


  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 –our goal at Landmark Recovery of helping one million people recover from addiction is 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 posits 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 in which 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.




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


Social Reasons That Can Trigger Addiction

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


  • 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. Alcohol has always served as a social lubricant.


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


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 drink 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 Wiz Khalifa smoking weed all the time with a seeming disregard for structure and responsibility. What they don’t necessarily see is the sharp hard-working businessman behind the public persona. They don’t tend to grasp the negative effects either when faced with an uber-appealing image designed to shift records and merchandise.



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 behavior therapy (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 through 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 Next

Whatever the underlying nuances, it’s impossible to underestimate the various ways in which social reasons can explain addiction.


Ultimately, every individual is different, though. If you’re at the stage where drink 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 friendly admissions team here 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.

About the Author


Landmark Recovery Staff

This post was written by a Landmark Recovery staff member. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-448-0302.

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