A Changing Society and Its Role In Addiction

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Psychologists and addiction researchers have long understood that one of the most important factors in developing effective treatment methodologies for substance abuse is understanding the underlying causes of it.

Assessing an individual’s personal life, mental and physical health, and cultural influences are absolutely essential. But in analyzing the explosive growth of substance abuse and addiction since the end of World War II, researchers have come to recognize the importance of society’s impact on the prevalence of these destructive behaviors, and the role the institutions that make up a society play.

Tradition Doesn’t Always Mean Lack of Abuse

The use of psychoactive substances for medicinal and religious uses has been a part of every society in every part of the world since the beginning of civilization, and so has the abuse of those substances. Alcohol was first fermented about 4,000 BC and alcoholism has been common and documented throughout history.

In America, it wasn’t until the post-war years that addiction became a serious social problem. The decades from the 1950’s until today have been a time of drastic social and cultural change, and have seen a disintegration of the traditional institutions that once molded and formed individual lives.

Societal Changes as a Cause of Addiction

In the 1960’s a powerful movement of thinkers and influencers that advocated secular humanist and leftist ideologies led what is often called a revolution in America, calling for the destruction of the traditional mores and social institutions that made up the foundation of Western civilization.

The argued that a new society, one with greater personal freedoms and equality, couldn’t possibly be created until the old society, which prevented the realization of their ideals, had been eradicated.

Their message proved to be highly attractive to many people, especially the young. They called for comprehensive change in every institution, schools, churches, government, business, families, and even private social groups. They demanded change in centuries-old social relationships such as gender roles and sexuality.

The Results and Influences of the 60’s

The forces for change that began in the 60’s are still at work in society today, and they’ve been highly effective. Whatever one thinks of the necessity and the wisdom of this social revolution, and it can be convincingly argued that some changes were needed and beneficial, few would argue that there have been extremely negative effects as well.

The breaking down of the institutions that once gave society stability and guidance and a firm foundation has left individuals without guidance and bereft of the family and social relationships that once provided security and strength. Many previously uncommon social pathologies have developed as a result, and among the most harmful of these is substance abuse and addiction.

Fighting Addiction by Reinvigorating Traditional Social Institutions

Many argue that since the disintegration of traditional relationships and institutions can be shown to be a primary cause of substance abuse, that an obvious way to combat it is to rebuild those social structures. A return to close and supportive family relationships and connected communities and neighborhoods is most essential. Churches could reassume the role they once played in individual lives, providing moral guidance and fulfilling the spiritual needs of the human personality.

Government at the local, state, and federal level can play a vital role in this necessary reform. It could be that the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction, and is ready for to return to a more wholesome and healthier point in its arc.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, professional guidance is just a phone call away. Contact Avalon Malibu today for a completely confidential assessment.


  1. By Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist, Substance Abuse : From a Social and Cultural View, St. Louis Psychologists and Counseling Information and Referral, 3/14/2013, http://www.psychtreatment.com/substance_abuse_social_cultural_view.htm
  2. Patrick Abbott, MD and Duane M. Chase, MD, Culture and Substance Abuse: Impact of Culture Affects Approach to Treatment, Psychiatric Times, 1/1/2008, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/culture-and-substance-abuse-impact-culture-affects-approach-treatment

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