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Grandiosity encouraged the sense that magical transformation without effort was possible; the use of drugs to transform their mood helped support this belief. One young drug abuser whose current life was a nightmare believed he was destined for some special fate that would make itself evident in time. Another talked of his special luck, believing that unusual things, both good and bad, happened to him more than to others.

For some of the young people we studied, drug abuse was secondary to other delinquent behavioi—usually some form of larceny. Some of the drug-abusing youths occasionally stole money to buy drugs, but such behavior was not central to their adaptation as it was for the delinquent youngsters. Conversely many delinquent youngsters were not drug (or alcohol) abusers.

Many drug-abusing youngsters are conscious of their rage and frustration with their families. To some extent their drug abuse is a way of making their emotions more tolerable. Delinquent youngsters more often use their behavior as a way of expressing their frustration without being aware of what they feel.

Some youngsters, however, see drug abuse itself primarily as a delinquent act and they, too, are often unaware that their abuse has anything to do with their families, so profoundly have they pushed their rage at them out of their consciousness. These young people are invariably unable to deal with their parents directly and are bound in simultaneous needs to defy their parents and to punish themselves for their rebellion.

Drugs provide these young people with both crime and punishment, while removing their defiance away from the direct presence of their parents. One young man would "let his mind float away" and concentrate on music he liked whenever his father berated him. Afterward he went out and took whatever drugs he could buy. While he never connected his drug abuse with his anger toward his father, he often dreamed of it as a crime for which he would be punished. He had a dream in which a riot was going on in another part of town while he was shooting heroin. He was afraid that somehow he would be arrested along with the rioters. Drugs were clearly his way of rioting, of diverting the crime of rebellion to the crime of drug abuse, and of focusing his destructive potential on himself.

The expectation that he would be arrested was revelatory of the appeal of drugs for him and typical of the group. Jail signified to these young men a concrete way of locking up their rage. Drugs permitted them both to contain their rage and to express it in a way that gave them a sense of defiance, however self-damaging that defiance might be. Often young people who are most in trouble with the police over drugs are those for whom the need for crime and punishment is more significant than the need for drugs (Hendin 1975).

lndividual and social distress are linked in psychosocial pathology by the destructiveness and self-destructiveness that are common to all of the barometers of psychosocial stress. Failure to understand this has led to confusion concerning the subject of correlations or inverse correlations between one form of psychosocial pathology and another. Suicide will be attributed to alcoholism or drug abuse because of the high frequency of alcoholics and drug abusers among those who kill themselves. A young man may narcotize his depression in alcohol and drugs for years before deciding to kill himself. He may even drink or drug himself to death. ln either case, although it may be physiologically accurate, it is psychologically inaccurate to attribute his suicide to alcoholism or drug abuse.

There are a limited number of ways in which psychosocial pathology can express itself—crime, sexual deviancy, suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, etc. The early traumas that predispose to such pathology create a vulnerability that is often not specific to a particular disturbance and is subject to a variety of psychosocial influences.

Once young people have become entrenched in a particular adaptation like drug abuse, however, it is not easy for them to give up the image they have of themselves and the role they have created. One young man was trying to move away from his drug abuse and the nickname he had at school of "burned-out Billy." He spoke of the rigid division of everyone in his school into "jocks," "freaks," or "greasers."

Billy had been lifting weights lately and thought if people at school knew about it they would make fun of him and claim he was a jock. He related a dream in which he was standing on the street wearing his football shirt, when some guys who supplied him with drugs came by in a car. They put him in the car, yelled "jock" at him, beat him up, and as the dream ended, threw him out of the car. After relating the dream, Billy spoke of a fellow he liked who was a good football player— a nice fellow, and not a typical jock. The dream revealed the internal conflict involved in identifying with people whom Billy now admired, adopting a new role, and surrendering his past image as a drug abuser. That he was making the effort was significant, and it seemed likely that he would succeed.

Toward a Sociology of Drug Use

Irving F. Lukoff, Ph.D.

lllicit substance use would appear to be a fruitful arena in which to use sociology to provide us with the insights needed to understand a vast and changing panorama. ln very recent history, illicit drug use has engaged most of our youths, at least some of the time, and substantial segments of the adult population. The issue to be discussed here is whether sociology has contributed to our understanding of substance use, particularly the illicit substances proscribed by society.

lt is necessary to specify precisely what is meant by a sociology of drug abuse. Although we will refer to the "licit" substances, our main task is to review what sociology has to contribute to our understanding of the use of a range of illicit substances. These include a veritable pharmacopeia of substances: narcotics of various types; marijuana and hashish; cocaine; methaqualone; methadone; inhalants; PCP; and illicitly used prescription drugs, including a wide array of tranquilizers, barbiturates, amphetamines, and similar compounds. Most of our discussion, however, will focus on heroin and marijuana because much more is currently known about the users of these substances.

Not only is there a vast array of substances people use, there is also a very marked selectivity as to who uses which kinds of substances. When LSD was being used by middle-class, college-age youths it was almost unknown in ghetto communities, where the drug users preferred heroin and marijuana. Patterns of drug use are generally not random; that is, the rates will vary sometimes by social class, other times by ethnicity, and almost always by age, since most illicit drug use is concentrated among adolescents and younger adults. Any effort at explanation must note that the use of different substances varies across population groups. Further, usage patterns appear to go through various changes, partly because substances may become unavailable but also because trends abound in drug-using cultures as in other aspects of society.

Except for marijuana and alcohol, the rates of sustained use of most other substances are rare events. This creates an additional problem, that of obtaining sufficient subjects for detailed investigations in most research strategies.

The variability just described, in choice of substances used and the different segments of society using them, raises a fundamental issue— one that is not often confronted. That is, whether drug use is a phenomenon that can be directly explained or whether it is an epiphenomenon, an encrustation on a more basic set of behaviors. One way this is often expressed is whether heroin use causes crime or vice versa or if marijuana use leads to the "hang loose" pattern associated with heavy users (Suchman 1968). There are indeed efforts to describe more elaborate patterns of behavior that cluster with the use of particular substances, that is, lifestyles or typologies, but the implications of this perspective are not often clearly drawn (Nurco and Lerner 1974). The theoretical significance of this distinction is, of course, that what one is endeavoring to understand shifts radically. lf one views heroin or LSD or marijuana as the focus for understanding, as an unalloyed dependent variable, then explanations take on one form. This assumption explains the focus on the primary group, particularly the role of friendship networks and attendant processes. On the other hand, if heroin use attracts individuals who are already on the path to systematic deviance and social disengagement, explanations take another form.

The classic thesis of Lindesmith (1947) serves to illustrate this dilemma. He established as a condition for a theory of narcotic use that it must not be idiosyncratic, nor limited to particular cultures or groups. But the use of opiates in very diverse settings involves not only individuals who are immersed in very different social systems, it even involves different forms of opiate use and generally engages individuals of different ages. The diversity that is implicit in this must lead, then, to a theory that is able to abstract social-structural commonalities in very different systems (perhaps insurmountable at this point in time) or one that reduces to an explanation that is primarily focused on properties of the substance. ln Lindesmith's case, this becomes the phenomenon of withdrawal and the perception of users that they can only relieve their symptoms by engaging in the use of the drug. This latter explanation cannot be considered a sociological one, irrespective of any merits it may have.

The issue noted earlier, whether heroin use causes criminal behavior, takes on very different meanings, depending on whether heroin is viewed as a discrete behavior that can be isolated from other aspects of a person's life history or is instead simply an attribute of the patterned behavior of individuals (NlDA 1976).

Another question is whether it is possible to integrate all substance use into a single theory. Just as we noted that even a particular substance may be, from one point of view, an epiphenomenon, the wide array of substances that are used also presents problems for anyone who would attempt to include them in a single theoretical framework.


The sociological theories that are most often cited are derived from formulations that were designed to provide insight into delinquency and criminal behavior. We review them in some detail because they illuminate the sociological questions that may be raised. They also direct us to the questions that remain to be answered. The formulation of Merton's essay on "Social Structure and Anomie" (1957, pp. 131-160) is probably the most frequently cited theory. The key feature, and

perhaps the primary reason for the theory's attractiveness, is that it is an effort to specify how features of the social structure that are external to the individual actors produce observable patterns of behavior (Stinchcombe 1975, pp. 11-33). As with any effort at sociological explanation, it does not endeavor to account for all varieties of idiosyncratic responses. The theoretical objective is to understand different rates of behavior that are observed in socially important entities such as sex, class, and ethnic groups.

ln his well-known formulation, Merton posits two systems: culturally prescribed goals for achievement, and institutionally organized modes for achieving these goals. The feature of this formulation that concerns us is that despite the abundant citation of this theory (Cole 1975), it illustrates another of Merton's observations made elsewhere, namely, / that there is a disjunction between theory and empirical research v (1957, pp. 131-16oj. While tfierePare efforts to use at least portions of the theory (as in Jessor 1979 and Jessor et al. 1968), the basic formulation is incompatible with most research strategies. One does not generally observe institutional norms but obtains individual perceptions of these norms, except where legal norms are invoked (Waldorf and Daily 1975). Nor does one readily obtain information on institutional access; one infers them, in most instances, from respondents' reports. While these may reflect larger cultural and structural facts, as Merton and Jessor suggest, it is not altogether clear that one can trace individual perceptions to larger systems except as they appear to be consistent with the assumptions of the theory. For example, lower class adolescents may often see schools as hostile and irrelevant environments for them. One may interpret this as reflecting a reality that blocks a significant route for the achievement of culturally prescribed success goals. However, this is not an unambiguous interpretation. lt is equally plausible to view the same information as a response to much more limited spheres—such as cognitive ability or a response to family and peer groups—that socialize lower class youths in ways that are incongruent with the demands of educational or occupational systems. We do not argue for this latter interpretation, nor is it an "unsociological" one. But it illustrates how the same information may be variously interpreted and embedded at different levels of abstraction. The linkages between theory and fact are simply ambiguous without other information, which is often not available.

The derivations from Merton's theory, however, are also troublesome. Merton views drug use (and he appears to have heroin addicts in mind) as a sort of "retreatism," in which individuals eschew culturally prescribed goals for achievement and are barred from or reject access to the goals that facilitate success. The rejection of both goals and means encompasses not only drug addicts, but alcoholics, psychotics, outcasts, and vagabonds. The use of opiates, which are depressants, is consistent with the theme that addicts have little incentive to participate in the activities of the day-to-day world, both its cultural prescriptions and the institutionally approved routes for achievement.

Unfortunately, the facts that have accumulated on addicts, most of them subsequent to the formulation of the theory (1949), are not easily reconciled with the retreatist theme (Lukoff 1972; Lukoff and Brook 1974; Waldorf and Daily 1975). Life is almost frenetic for addicts. ln order to survive they must keep out of the wayliT the police, raise the considerable funds they require, and keep abreast of where drugs might be obtained.

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