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Strain theory vs. differential association Causes for alcoholism







            Excessive alcohol use by members in society has always been looked down on by others. It goes against social norms within society due to the harm that it brings to the individual dependent on the substance and their loved ones. While everyone in society is condemning individuals for this vice is anyone questioning what causes these people to start these actions in the first place? The study of deviant behavior attempts to answer these questions. Yet there are several different theories within the study of deviant behavior that attempt to explain this. The purpose of this essay strain theory and differential association will be used in attempts to explain the forces in an individual’s life. The theory of differential association implies that social values are internalized by the individual and their surroundings. Good or bad these values become a norm for the individual and affect their wants and drives. If these internalized values promote deviance, it is only logical that the individual who has acquired these vales will then take part in these deviant behaviors. Another attempt by sociologist to explain the causes for deviant behavior is the strain theory. Strain theory suggests that social forces put pressures on individuals. These pressures often cause problems for the individuals who are unable to cope with social pressures. Deviant behavior then arises as an attempt to solve the social problems of the individual. While it is hard to say which side truly explains one why one would deviate from the norm and commit deviant act both sides provide justifiable explanations for deviant behaviors like alcoholism. This essay will examine both sides with reference to what would lead one into a life of alcoholism.

Differential association was started by Edwin Sutherland. He believed that one learns to become deviant just as someone learns as skill. These values surround the individual in their daily life and are held and values by others. In turn the individual learns to have these values. Therefore using differential association, it can be said that one learns the required skills to either become an alcoholic or not. This can be seen in Henry and Slater’s article on The Contextual Effect of School Attachment on Young Adolescents’ Alcohol Use. According to their article a students who have feelings of attachment to their school are less likely to partake in deviant activities such as drinking. “Students who demonstrate a positive attachment to school are less likely to be involved in delinquency”.(Slater and Henry, 2007). They believe that when a student feels attachment to their school they internalize the values that the school holds. “A strong attachment to school in general is characterized by a commitment to conventional academic and social endeavors at school, attachment to pro-social peers, attachment to teachers and other school staff, and belief in established pro-social norms.” (Slater and Henry, 2007).  The quote shows how differential association works.

What this article is showing is that when people can connect with their surroundings, whether that is family, school, friends and so on, they begin to internalize the values that are present in their lives. The article shows this by demonstrating how students who like school take part in less deviant activity because they internalize the values of the school. Therefore things like alcoholism do not become a problem because the students do not internalize values that would promote alcoholism. “The model hypothesizes that students who attend schools with a sense of community feel committed to school and are compelled to abide by the norms, values, and expectations put forth by the school, including abstinence from drug use.” (Slater and Henry, 2007).  However this works both ways. When the students do not feel an attachment to their school, they tend to disenfranchise themselves from it. “Dysfunctional schools have more disengaged youth.” (Slater and Henry, 2007). This means that the student will not internalize the values held by the school which leaves them looking to other things for answers. This can and possible will lead children into deviant behavior such as alcoholism. “The theory posits that risk factors in one’s environment weaken an individual’s bond to conventional pro-social society. Furthermore, Elliott and colleagues argue that delinquency is most likely to proliferate when individual risk factors exist in tandem with an environment that reinforces delinquent behavior or makes delinquent behavior seem normative and/or acceptable”. (Slater and Henry, 2007).  So, this shows that when proper guidance’s is not available and when is contact with values that go against social norms students will internalize these values. Therefore, the values that lead to alcoholism are internalized and then later used by the individual. Having internalized these values as norms they do not see the problem with their behavior which then cause them to be known as deviant. A similar conclusion can be drawn when examining the socio-economic position of adolescents’ health in Italy. The authors of the article come to a similar conclusion and state, “The association in adolescence between a high-quality network of social relations and a good state of health, and positive health behaviors, is well established.” (Zambon, 2007).Once again it is argued that when children live in well structured and ordered social surroundings, they internalize the values of the group and become well functioning members of society. Therefore, behaviors like alcoholism are not internalized because they have taken in values that do not permit that kind of deviant behavior. “identifying four main groups of mechanisms:  emotional support can enhance self-esteem and self-efficacy, which in turn are major recognized determinants of healthy behaviors and lower stress; (ii) emotional support can help in converting intentions into actions (instrumental support); (iii) informational support provides a wider range of coping styles; and (iv) informational support allows for a higher possibility of being influenced and motivated in the adoption and development of healthier behaviors (appraisal support).” (Zambon, 2007). As is key with differential association, people internalize the values that they are given. In these two cases it is shown that children internalize values that are honored by society when they are surrounded by these positive influences. They learn to have these values just as someone would learn to become dependent on alcohol. However, this case is no different then before. Just as one can learn positive behaviors they can also learn ones that can lead to alcoholism. “Duncan highlights, for the relations with parents, the fact that inept parental monitoring and parent–child conflict can hinder the development of self-control skills, and encourage behaviors expressing contrast with the family, with rebellion against others acted out through self harm (smoking and other dangerous behaviors).” (Zambon, 2007).Once again, when strong concrete values imposed by society are not able to connect with the child, they begin to internalize other values that may go against social norms, such as alcoholism. Therefore using the concept of differential association and the proofs outlined thus far one can see that people do learn the skill required to perform certain actions, even if that action leads to alcoholism.    Yet differential association is not the only school of thought that attempts to explain why some people behave in deviant ways. Strain theory is another legitimate theory that could very well explain why some individuals would become alcoholics.

There are different beliefs within the strain theory, but as stated before, strain theory was developed around the belief that deviant behavior arises as a response to a problem that the individual cannot fix. The original strain theory was started by Robert Merton. He too believed that deviance occurred as a way to solve a problem. He believed this happened when the individual conflicted with societal values. He outlines different way in which people deal with these outcomes. There are the conformist who accepts the values of society and the strict means that dictate how one should obtain these goals. There are the innovators who accept the goal but find other ways in which to acquire these goals. This would be ones white collar criminals, bank robbers and so forth. Next are the people who accept the means of acquiring the goals but not the goals themselves. After that is the double rejects. The people who reject both the goals and the means to obtaining them, these are the people that end up isolated from the rest of society and live in a world of substance abuse. Finally there are those who reject the goals and means and attempt to replace them with their own values and beliefs. For the purpose of this essay, this will be the focus of Merton’s strain theory. In response to the cause of alcoholism, according to Merton one becomes an alcoholic when they choose to reject society’s goals and approved way of achieving these goals. These people choose to reject it because they lacked the ability to live up to society’s standards. This can be seen when reviewing Kohl and Wall’s article Substance Use in Maltreated Youth: Findings from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. This article argues that children who have conduct problems at school are more likely to use alcohol, which at that age is the stepping stone for alcoholism later in life. “Conduct problems and low caregiver relatedness were more prevalent for youth reporting higher levels of substance use. High levels of conduct problems increased the odds of substance use, whereas high caregiver monitoring decreased the odds of substance use.” ( Wall and Kohl, 2007).This shows Merton’s double reject concept. The individual cannot meet the requirements that re expected of him in his school life. Thus he rejects these norms which cause conduct problems which then in turn lead to alcoholism. Another strain theory that helps explain how one becomes alcoholic is the general strain theory. This theory states that when a child is unable to escape from a bad situation such as an abusive parent, or a bully at school, they find other deviant ways to try and escape from their current situation. This often leads to substance abuse and in this case alcoholism. Wall’s article supports this theory as well, “Maltreated youth may be at even greater risk of substance use than non-maltreated youth due to the additional challenges maltreated youth often face.” Their inability to cope with these problems leads them to a life of alcoholism. “Youth who are abused or neglected are more likely than their non-maltreated peers to live in poverty (Lipsey & Derzon, 1998), have social skill deficits (Fantuzzo, Weiss, Atkins, Meyers, & Noone, 1998),and have academic problems (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000), all of which are associated with a greater likelihood of substance use.” ( Wall and Kohl, 2007).A similar conclusion can be drawn from Jenkins and Pires article A Growth Curve Analysis of the Joint Influences of Parenting Affect, Child Characteristics and Deviant Peers on Adolescent Illicit Drug Use. They too show how maltreatment of children can lead to substance abuse. “Other research has found that drug users have less satisfactory relationships with their parents than nonusers, that they are less likely to report that they are close to their parents, and that parents of these children are less likely to set rules and standards for their children.”(Jenkins and Pires, 2006). Once again mistreatment of ones children leads them into substance abuse such as alcoholism. As is outlines by general strain theory, unable to escape from these pressures they turn to a deviant act in hopes to find a way out.

In conclusion, both differential association and strain theory both have very well lain out and logical explanations to why one might become an alcoholic, an act that is widely acknowledged as a deviant behavior. While both attempt to shed new light on this problem and show that alcoholism is more then just a personal problem, where both falter is that neither side takes the other into perspective. Both sides have valid points, and it could be argued that either one is the reason why deviant acts like alcoholism arise. Yet where they lack is the ability to incorporate both sides as logical explanations to this problem.