Page images

longitudinal predictive differences between those likely to begin use in the near future and those not. A single summarizing dimension underlying the differences between users and nonusers might be termed conventionality-unconventionality. With respect to personality, the adolescent less likely to engage in marijuana use is one who values and expects to attain academic achievement, who is not much concerned with independence, who treats society as unproblematic rather than as an object for criticism, who maintains a religious involvement and a more uncompromising attitude toward normative transgression, and who sees little attraction in problem behavior relative to its anticipated negative consequences. The adolescent more likely to be involved with marijuana shows an opposite pattern: a concern with personal autonomy, a lack of interest in the goals of conventional institutions like church and school, a jaundiced view of the larger society, and a more tolerant view of transgression.

With respect to the environment, the youth likely to be involved with marijuana perceives less parental support, less compatibility between parents' and friends' expectations, greater influence of friends relative to parents, and greater approval of and models for drug use from friends. These variables reflect the importance of whether the reference orientation of a youth is toward parents or peers, and the importance of the models and reinforcements available in the peer context. With respect to behavior, the adolescent likely to use marijuana is one who is likely to be more involved in other problem behaviors as well and less involved in conventional behavior than his or her non-drug-using counterpart.

The research findings are generally similar for both males and females, a fact worthy of emphasis. There is also similarity between high school and college youths, but it is attenuated, particularly in the personality system and in the distal structure of the perceivedenvironment system, suggesting that development is not homogeneous throughout the early-to-late stages of adolescence and youth. Overall, support for the utility of problem-behavior theory as a socialpsychological framework for the study of drug use can be found not only in the research carried out by the Jessors and their colleagues, but in the findings from a wide variety of studies done by other investigators as well. (For a review of recent studies of marijuana use, see Jessor 1979.)

Toward a Theory of
Drug Subcultures

Bruce D. Johnson, Ph.D.

The theory of drug subcultures outlined below applies theoretical traditions developed by Sutherland (1939), Cohen (1955), Cloward and Ohlin (1960), and Wolfgang and Ferricutti (1967) to the phenomena of nonmedical drug use. Aspects of this theory are more fully explicated by Johnson (1973) and, to a lesser extent, by Johnson and Preble (1978). The concept of subculture, of course, has a long and distinguished history in anthropology and sociology (Kluckhohn 1962; Yinger 1960; Broom and Selznick 1968, p. 71), but many meanings of this concept appear to be too broad for analyzing patterns of drug use. Fine and Kleinman (1979) indicate that the subculture concept is (1) not synonymous with a subsociety or the social structure; (2) not a group of persons (primary or peer groups) or a statistical aggregate (i.e., persons aged 12 to 18); (3) not homogeneous, static, or closed; and (4) not composed only of values and central themes. Rather subcultures emerge from, are maintained by, and change over time through a i complex process of interaction involving many persons and groups that may not be directly connected.

The theoretical perspective presented here is not grand theory in the manner of Parsons, Weber, or Durkheim. Rather, it more closely approximates what Merton (1957, p. 5), calls "theories of the middle range, theories intermediate to the minor working hypotheses evolved in abundance during day-to-day routines of research, and the allinclusive speculations comprising a master conceptual scheme." Such theory "consists of general orientation toward data, suggesting types of variables which need somehow to be taken into account, rather than clear, verifiable statements of relationships between specified variables" (Merton 1957, p. 9). The perspective presented here emerges from middle-range theories in criminology and deviant behavior and focuses upon only a narrow segment of these fields--that of illicit drug use. Nevertheless, it attempts to present such general theoretical orientations toward illicit drug use by (1) building from fundamental sociological concepts (values, norms, roles, etc.). (2) describing the content

of such concepts as found in illicit drug use, (3) analytically linking these concepts for purposes of theory testing, (4) including significant insights from other theories and empirical findings that have emerged, and (5) indicating unique features of this perspective that are not incorporated in others. Finally, the perspective is distinctly sociological and makes little or no attempt to incorporate psychological, biological, or pharmacological theories and insights about drug use, although overlaps with these theories are suggested at some points.

For reasons that will become clear, this perspective is most useful in understanding patterns of drug use and misuse that occur during youth and young adulthood, mainly between the ages of 11 and 25, although some persons begin earlier and some remain involved at later ages. Moreover, drug-subculture participation is related to the broad American "middle class" culture, the "peer" or youth culture, and various other subcultures. The broader framework within which drug subcultures function will be delineated first.


An important feature of drug subculture theory includes theoretical linkages with American "middle class culture," "peer culture," and other subcultures (Johnson 1973, pp. 6-8). The middle-class culture reflects the broad American culture and defines what adults expect youths and young adults to do or not to do. This parent culture expects youths to avoid tobacco, alcohol in excess, and nonmedical drug use. (Other norms are specified in Johnson (1973, p. 6].) The values and conduct norms of the parent culture become internalized and continue to influence youths and young adults even after departure from home.

The peer culture (also called youth culture) governs patterns of youthful behavior and friendship groups (Gans 1962; Yinger 1960). The conduct norms of the peer culture emphasize that (1) the person must be loyal to friends and attempt to maintain group association; (2) social interaction with the peer group should occur in locations where adult controls are relatively absent; (3) within such peer groups, a veiled competition exists for status and prestige among group participants and leads to new forms of behavior or operating innovations (Vaz 1967).

The concepts of peer culture and peer group are closely related. A particular person may have several close friends, the peer group. However, peer groups do not exist in isolation; several peer groups exhibit behaviors similar to other peer groups because they follow the values and conduct norms of the peer culture. Individuals generally experience the peer culture as it is mediated through a peer group.

Closely related to the peer culture and drug subcultures are other subcultures organized around different unconventional behaviors or even conventional behaviors. Each of these other subcultures has specific values and conduct norms governing the central activities around which the group functions (Cloward and Ohlin 1960) that are directly parallel to the drug subculture. Thus, delinquent subcultures emerge from those conduct norms and values which influence behaviors

promoting the commission of criminal acts; homosexual subcultures emerge from values and conduct norms regulating interaction between sexual partners of the same sex; leftist or rightist subcultures follow values and conduct norms oriented toward political activity. Conventional subcultures also exist (e.g., those centered around rock or disco music, athletic participation, auto racing, etc.).

Within the peer culture and other subcultures of unconventional behavior, there is a conduct norm of veiled competition. In many middle and lower class peer groups and under a veneer of noncompetitive good fellowship and fun, "there is constant concealed competition between peer group members for leadership and status" (Vaz 1967, p. 134). Competition for status within the peer group frequently leads to experimentation with new behaviors. Such "operating innovations" if rewarded by the peer group (by increased respect or admiration for the instigator) or copied and repeated by other peer group members, and if concealed from adult authorities, frequently "generate their own morality norms, standards and rewards" (Dublin 1959). These innovations, which may not have been permitted at an earlier time, become tolerated and then accepted as normal, and perhaps demanded (a new conduct norm) of those participating in the peer group. Operating innovations within a specific peer group frequently follow a relatively predictable pattern of greater involvement in a specific subculture or experimental and/or irregular involvement in several subcultures of unconventionality. Thus, for many peer groups and for individual participants, their orientation to conduct norms and values from one or more subcultures may change over time, and their behavior may change accordingly. In addition, as the peer group learns and incorporates subcultural conduct norms, values, rituals, and argot, the members also reorient thinking toward and develop rationalizations about parental cultural values. A variety of techniques of neutralization (Sykes and Matza 1957) may be adopted to denigrate or deny the validity of parent culture conduct norms (no drugs, no sex before marriage, moderate alcohol use, etc.) and expectations for conventional behavior.

The critical fact is that the conduct norms and values from these unconventional subcultures (drug, delinquent, homosexual, etc.) are widely known within the youth or peer culture (Fine and Kleinman 1979; Jessor and Jessor 1977); individuals and specific peer groups may orient themselves to any one or a combination of values and conduct norms and behave accordingly. For example, a peer group in which each person consumes considerable amounts of alcohol, smokes marijuana, snorts cocaine, and commits burglary is simultaneously following the conduct norms and values of and participating in each of these subcultures: peer, alcohol abuse, cannabis use, multiple drug use (defined below), and delinquency. This theory suggests that peer culture participation precedes involvement in several unconventional subcultures. Thus, many statistically significant relationships between drug use and other forms of unconventional behavior (alcoholism, delinquency, criminality, multiple sex partners, etc.) may exist because of a prior involvement in the peer culture and predisposing tendencies toward unconventional behavior. Jessor and Jessor (1977), Jessor (1979), Johnston et al. (1978), and Kandel's (1978b) causal analyses of the relationship between drug use and other problem behaviors show that neither causes the other(s) and that both are the result of a preexisting tendency toward unconventional behavior.

In addition, many individuals and peer groups have also internalized values and conduct norms from the parent culture which urge avoidance

of and/or moderation in drug use, alcohol consumption, criminal activities, and nonmarital sexual behavior. The conduct norms of the parent culture and various subcultures of unconventionality are frequently in opposition; such conflicting standards about appropriate behavior may lead individuals to shift peer group membership and experiment or moderate their unconventional behavior or drug use.


Although no definition of a subculture is widely accepted at this time, an elaboration upon Wolfgang's (1967, p. 146) definition provides a good starting point; a subculture is "composed of values, conduct norms, social situations, role definitions and performances, sharing, transmission, and learning of values." The term "drug subculture" refers to those values, conduct norms, social situations, argot, rituals, role definitions, and performances that are associated with the nonmedical use of drugs. Excluded from, although related to, this concept of a drug subculture are values and conduct norms governing the medical use of drugs; the use of drugs for dieting and sleeping; the consumption of cigarettes, coffee, and tea; and the social use of alcohol. These are not socially defined as "drugs" by law, social custom, or most illicit drug users.

The most important elements of a subculture are its values and conduct norms. Values are here understood to be shared ideas about what the subgroup believes to be true or what it wants (desires) or ought to want. Probably the most important value in a drug subculture, which provides a significant discontinuity (Levi-Strauss 1953, p. 536) from the broad American conventional culture, is the intention or desire to get "high" or to experience euphoria from the nonmedical consumption of substances. This value is the organizing focus of the subcultures to be discussed hereafter.

Conduct norms are also crucial to understanding a subculture. Conduct norms are those expectations of behavior in a particular social situation that are attached to a status within the group (Wolfgang 1967). Conduct norms govern the "central activities around which the group" is organized or functions and provide "essential requirements for the performance of the dominant roles" supported by the subculture (Cloward and Ohlin 1960, p. 7). Thus, the dividing line between marginal participation and nonparticipation in a drug subculture can be rather accurately gauged by whether a person has used a particular drug in an intentional attempt to get high, although persons who express a definite wish to use the drug(s) may also be included as participants.

Roles are expectations (or norms) for appropriate behavior attached to a particular status or social position. Role performance is the person's behavior as a result of following the conduct norms while an incumbent of a particular status. Within the drug subculture(s), three roles are of central importance: seller, buyer, and user. (These roles will be elaborated later.) Performance of these roles is usually illegal and may expose the person to arrest and incarceration; thus, role performance is generally covert or hidden.

In addition to central values, conduct norms, and roles, drug subcultures frequently have specialized argot, rituals, and highly valued

« PreviousContinue »