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Drug and Alcohol Consumption as Functions of Social Structures: A Cross-cultural Sociology
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Drug and Alcohol Consumption as Functions of Social Structures: A Cross-cultural Sociology (Hardback)

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Synopsis

This work uses classical sociological theory to demonstrate how the processes of rationalization and modernization have altered why, how, and how frequently people consume drugs. It is with great pleasure that I introduce this important book on drug use. While books on the subject abound, it is always refreshing to find a scholarly text on drug use that offers a new vantage point on this complicated and ever present social phenomenon. This is such a book. James Hawdon has skillfully synthesized classic sociological thought to craft a general theory of drugs that provides us with significant insights into human drug use. He has also painstakingly gathered the existing data on drug use throughout the world to put his new theory to the test. The result is a broad macro-sociological theory of drug use, firmly grounded in a wealth of empirical evidence, which has much to offer both academics and policy makers alike.

Recognizing the often-problematic nature of defining what is considered a drug and what is not, the book provides a working definition of drugs that includes both the psychoactive aspects of substances and the political reality that goes into defining what substances society recognizes as drugs. Drugs have become extremely politicized. Whether it is moral entrepreneurs concerned with saving souls, political entrepreneurs concerned with constituencies and elections, or some other interested parties, drugs have come to be defined as "magical" substances that are somehow different from other things. Hawdon demonstrates that this special status that drugs have acquired is largely unfounded. While drugs can be very powerful substances, treating drugs as totally different from all other commodities has led many to approach issues related to drug use in a manner that is often misguided or even counterproductive. It is important to remember that drugs, both legal and illegal, are basically just commodities. The same economic forces of supply and demand that influence the consumption patterns of other commodities impact the consumption of drugs.

What is more, larger social forces, including modernization and rationalization, also shape these consumption patterns. And demonizing these substances tends to obscure the social reality of drugs and drug use. The nature of drug use is largely predicated on the context in which the drug use takes place. Hawdon points out that whether or not a drug has been socially defined as sacred by a social group plays an essential role in how a drug is used and the extent to which it is abused by members of that group. There is nothing inherently sacred about any given drug. A drug becomes sacred only when the collectivity defines it as such and maintains beliefs and rites that support the drug's sacred status. Moreover, social forces such as modernization and scientific rationality have increasingly impacted religious practices and, in turn, changed the nature of sacred drug use. This influence is especially evident in the patterns of drug use in more modernized western societies. Hawdon notes that the differences in social control over sacred versus profane drug using behaviors are important.

While defining drugs as sacred restricts drug using behaviors, it prescribes certain drug using behaviors as well. In contrast, restrictions on drugs defined as profane are basically negative in nature, either restricting or prohibiting drug use, but not requiring drug use. The difference has significant ramifications. Sacred drug use requires the use of the sacred drugs by certain people at specific times and in a specific manner. At the same time, generally, the proscriptions of sacred drug use tend to make abuse of these drugs much less likely and the rituals related to sacred use also serve an integrative function for the people within this belief system. Conversely, the use of profane drugs is not so influenced, thus drugs defined as profane are prone to greater variations in who, when, and how they are used. Profane drugs are also more likely to be abused and to be socially disintegrative with regard to the larger society, fostering the development of distinct subgroups. And while groups within a society may disagree on what is sacred drug use and what is not, these insights can have important policy implications.

Hawdon's theory maintains that modernization and rationalization have changed the nature of sacred and profane drug use. Pre-modern societies saw a world filled with the supernatural in which sacred drug use could literally transform people, facilitate spiritual journeys to other worlds, and manipulate the gods. In modern societies, however, the growing influence of modernization, science and rational thought has led to a demystification of the world, which has reduced the emphasis on religion and dealing directly with the supernatural. As the predominant worldview has grown more secular, drug use has become more profane and less subject to the sacred proscriptions of earlier times. Sacred drug use has become more abstract, symbolic, and otherworldly in focus with less direct control on drug use. Meanwhile, an increased emphasis on rational thought and science has produced a stronger emphasis on individual instrumental action, resulting in an increase in recreational drug use. Secular society is a society based largely on laws but, unlike the absolute nature of religious beliefs, laws are more relative and change much more rapidly.

Modern religions tend to focus on more general moral teachings in which control of drug use is more derivative than direct. Thus, modern western societies that glorify individualism and the freedom to make personal choices by their very nature reduce the influence of communal restraints and increase the likelihood of greater variation in who uses drugs, what drugs they use, and how they use them. Subcultures may develop in reaction to the disenchantment of the world and use their own sacred drugs to reintroduce the mystical, but the rationalization process eventually changes even these groups. Hawdon's work, supported by numerous examples and global data, show that rates of drug use are higher in nations or in regions that are more developed. The rise of synthetic drugs and the continuous growth and spread of pharmaceutical knowledge makes many new drugs readily available. Modern factories produce drugs faster. Drugs become cheaper and easier to obtain. Thus, the process of modernization increases the variety of drugs available and the variety of drugs used for all segments of society. Modernization also affects the structure of social control mechanisms related to drug use.

This book demonstrates, through numerous historical examples, the general pattern of drug use in modernizing societies throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As industrialization rapidly modernizes various aspects of a given society, drug use expands rapidly, and then slowly stabilizes. This is followed by a dramatic decrease in drug use. This curvilinear pattern is related to changes in social control mechanisms. Traditional sources of informal social control are weakened by the processes of modernization and eventually replaced by formal social control in the form of anti-drug laws. The changing nature of work and the growing interdependence of social institutions, both nationally and internationally, contribute to a new emphasis on sobriety. This has been coupled with a shifting emphasis on the importance of achieved over ascribed status in modern societies. The result is an increasing correlation of drug use patterns with achieved social status in contrast to less modernized societies where ascribed status plays a much greater role in determining drug use patterns.

So, generally, there are fewer distinctions between groups with regard to drug use as societies become more modern and more egalitarian. Hawdon provides ample evidence to demonstrate how cyclical patterns of drug use found within societies are closely related to the status of those who are using the drugs and the perceived dangers of the drugs being used. Typically, new drugs come along or old drugs are rediscovered by societal elites. Over time, the use of these drugs spreads to other segments of society and eventually to people in the lower segments of society. Then the use of these drugs falls out of favor in elite circles, perhaps due to the arrival of another new drug or the increased social costs of being associated with a drug that is now identified with low social status. It is at this point in the cycle that anti-drug laws tend to appear which target these drugs that are now primarily used by people with lower social status. Not coincidentally, these lower status users have fewer resources to influence the law making process or to conceal their drug use.

This shift is reinforced by an increased societal perception of the harm of these drugs; a perception often built on a circular logic, i.e. people at the bottom of the social ladder use these drugs, so they must be at the bottom because they use these drugs. These groups then get demonized and their drug use blamed for all sorts of social ills, while ignoring the larger pattern, the previous elite use of these drugs, and the policy alternatives the larger pattern may indicate. Unfortunately, this type of scapegoating behavior is often heartily embraced by political and moral entrepreneurs looking for someone to blame for social problems and the countless economic entrepreneurs looking to cash in by providing their "solutions" to these problems. It is a lot easier to sell scapegoats than the need for larger structural change. This book shows how the timing of new anti-drug campaigns and anti-drug legislation is also closely tied to another social process - social mobility. Building on his earlier work, Hawdon's discussion here of the impact of the frequent fluctuations of social mobility on the cyclical nature of drug use patterns and social control efforts is extremely informative.

He shows how changes in social mobility affect deviance structures, which set the behavioral boundaries of what societies consider acceptable and what is defined as deviant. When social mobility is relatively high, there is greater opportunity for individuals to interact with a greater number of social networks. This exposes individuals to more diverse behaviors, beliefs and norms. It also reduces the costs of exiting a group. This increases the emphasis on individualism and reduces the ability of any particular group to exercise social control over an individual. As social mobility increases, deviance structures expand to allow more behaviors including increased and more varied drug using behaviors. Conversely, when mobility decreases, social networks are more limited and deviance structures contract. This leads to a reduction in drug use. In these periods of contraction, not only are opportunities for use reduced, but the range of behaviors deemed acceptable is also narrowed. Anti-drug crusades often follow, after the level of drug use has already significantly decreased, as part of the narrowing definitions of deviant behavior.

Hawdon also offers a useful summary of theories of drug use that focus on micro-level individual causes. Hawdon notes the utility of these explanations of drug use. He also provides a good case for considering how macro-level forces, such as modernization and a scientific worldview, influence their individual social-psychological correlates. This connection is often overlooked. It is something that deserves much greater attention in policy-making circles. This book makes significant contributions to the literature on drug use. It is a rare find; a refreshing "value free" approach to the study of drugs and society. By standing on the shoulders of sociological giants, James Hawdon has succeeded in producing a grand theoretical explanation of drug use with a solid empirical foundation that allows all of us to see much farther than we previously had seen. The discussion of sacred and profane drug use and its implications is enlightening. The book also demonstrates how macro-level forces, such as modernization, rationalization, and social mobility, can account for patterns of drug use.

His focus on these big-picture variables provides new insights and new challenges for policy makers who must come to terms with the need to address larger issues in their attempts to resolve the issue of drug use. As Hawdon notes, people often empower drugs inappropriately. Drugs become these socially constructed demons, rather than commodities subject to the same social forces as other commodities. Many policy makers and moral entrepreneurs remain mystified by drug use, but this book provides us with a rational lens to better understand it. If we truly want to change things for the better, we first need to develop a rational understanding of the big picture. This book offers a major contribution to that understanding.

Philosophy, Psychology & Social SciencesSocial issues & processesIllness & addiction: social aspectsDrug & substance abuse: social aspects Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd Publication Date: 01/06/2005 ISBN-13: 9780773461871  Details: Type: Hardback Format: Books
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