Does the Company You Keep Determine Drug Addiction
To what degree does social environment influence a person’s decision to use or to avoid drugs? Is drug use caused by peer pressure? Do teenagers who fall in with the “wrong crowd” inevitably end up using drugs? Opinions are divided on questions such as these in the fields of addiction treatment, public health and medicine, with some arguing that addiction is an entirely physiological disorder and others claiming that it is primarily a result of conditioning and environmental exposure. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a leading authority on the subjects of substance abuse and addiction, weighs in on the matter and recognizes that environment, along with biology and development, is indeed a key factor in determining whether or not a person will try drugs or become an addict. They list several aspects of this factor, including:
• Socioeconomic status
• Peer pressure
• Physical abuse
• Sexual abuse
• Quality of parenting
While recourse to authority may be to some degree useful and effective in settling arguments over the causes of drug addiction, it is difficult to argue with a personal story from someone who has experienced the descent into addiction.
Such a story can be found in a video posted online by Narconon, in which a young man narrates his own story of addiction and recovery. As is common, his relationship with drugs began after he developed relationships with the “wrong crowd.” He begins his story saying, “When I was in sixth grade, I started smoking weed. In middle school, I was just smoking weed basically, and hallucinogenics every now and then, and I basically stopped caring about school, got into the wrong group of friends, and was out not doing what I should have been doing.” Whatever course the young man’s life may have been following until that point, when he started hanging out with what he describes as “the wrong group of friends,” things took a major turn for the worse. As time went on, conditions continued to deteriorate. “When I got into high school, I got into a little bit harder drugs, which drove me even more from my family.” After falling in with the wrong crowd, he started to lose the relationships with the people who really mattered. Later, he started using opiates, and things “went downhill really, really quickly for me. I completely lost of all my friends and family, I stole whatever I could to get money to support my habit. My girlfriend didn’t want to talk to me anymore, and my friends didn’t want me in their houses or around any of their friends.” Where were the new “friends” who had led him into using drugs? Gone, just like everyone else. “Eventually, I ended up homeless, and my life was just awful.
Positive Peer Pressure
Fortunately, social influence and peer pressure can have positive effects, just as they can drive a person into destructive behavior such as drug abuse and addiction. This is what happened with the young man in the Narconon video. As it happened, he found Narconon through the advice of several of his friends who had also fallen into addiction but had made it back out with the help of the Narconon program. “A couple of my friends had come through the [Narconon] program, like a year before I did. They got out and were doing really, really well. They had told two of my other friends about it,” and those friends also did the program. The fact that so many of his friends had made a fresh start through Narconon served to convince him to take a chance on the program. “They were like, ‘You know, I think you need to go. It’s in California. I think you should check this place out.’ And so I was on the plane later that day.” The young man’s story of how he got started using drugs is one that is all too common, with “friends” enticing, pressuring or compelling one into trying drugs to be “cool” or to “fit in.” Thankfully, the young man’s story ended well, with some of his true friends helping him find the way out of addiction.