Affects of Social Influences among Non-Drinkers

There are many reasons why young people may be predisposed to use alcohol. The onset of drinking among the youth may be attributed to minimal or lack of parental supervision, media glamorization, breakdown of the traditional structure of the family, peer pressure, and pleasure. Available literatures on alcohol suggest that there are many other additional reasons that predispose young people to use alcohol. The quests for explanations on why young people use alcohol have historically focused on the individual. Communication skills, family history, attitudes, personality traits and a persons belief have been studied by researchers as factors associated with alcohol use. Researchers later recognized the disparities in immediate environmental factors and that particular external conditions might make an individual more or less likely to use alcohol. Within this new approach, investigators study the family and social experiences that shape ones environment.

Even though it is common knowledge that people are influenced by the environment in which they live, more emphasis has been placed on an individuals characteristics in understanding alcohol use. Among these individual characteristics are personality traits, interpersonal and peer resistance skills, and knowledge, attitudes and beliefs.

Personality is a complicated concept that has not been fully comprehended. However, there are various personality characteristics that have been associated with preadolescent alcohol use. There are particular personality traits that are easily recognizable as predictive. These traits provide a picture of as young person who is not tied to mainstream societal values or structures such as the family, schools or religious institutions (Cooper, 2000). These characteristics include being rebellious, high levels of sensation seeking, non-conformity to traditional values, high deviance tolerance, resistance to traditional authority, strong need for independence, low self esteem and a general feeling of lack of control over an individuals life (Heather, Peters  Stockwell, 2001).

Some researchers have indicated that personality traits of children who start using alcohol before adolescent and those who begin use later may vary. There is high likelihood of young people who begin using alcohol before adolescence engaging in antisocial behavior as compared to those who begin use after adolescent (Littrell, 1991). The initiation of alcohol in preadolescence children also seem to be associated with psychological distress or maladjustment. However, this link is not applicable when initiation takes place later in adolescence (Littrell, 1991). For instance, there is high likelihood of a twelve year old kid who disrespects the rules of the classroom, has difficulty in keeping friends, is disrespectful to adults or is hyperactive becoming involved with alcohol later in life.

Research has shown that young people who have favorable attitudes towards the use of alcohol are more likely to use them than those who have neutral or unfavorable attitudes (Heather et al., 2001). However, structuring of long lasting attitudes is not a simple issue. It is easier to strengthen negativistic attitude towards the use of alcohol than to reverse positive attitudes once use has begun. Initiation of alcohol use among some youth has also been associated with interpersonal skills. Since the onset of alcohol use usually occurs within the social context, the more an individual is confident about decisions not to use alcohol and the more refined his or her skills are in communicating this position, the more able they will be in resisting peer pressure (Cooper, 2000). This confidence and skill must however be reinforced with inoculation to pro-drinking commercial messages.

Genetic characteristics have also been linked to ones propensity to develop alcoholism even though they are not probably linked to an individuals decision to begin alcohol use. Even though the development of alcohol use appear to partially depend on the environment, individuals who are born into families with a history of alcoholism are generally considered to be at a higher risk of developing alcoholic tendencies than the general public. Research suggest that male children of parents who have alcohol histories are almost twice as likely to develop alcohol tendencies regardless of whether they are separated from their parents at birth or not. Female children with alcoholic mothers are on the other hand three times as likely (Heather, Peters  Stockwell, 2001).

Children who are at risk of alcoholism due to genetic factors are often exposed to compounded risk by being raised in families where the use of alcohol is problematic. Long lasting dysfunction among children may be a consequence of the presence of a parent who is alcoholic. Maladjustment or psychological distress may result in early alcohol use.

There are some special circumstances or situations that some youths possess which places them at high risk of alcohol use. There are some basic criteria that young people at risk generally possess. They may have a history of abuse or neglect may be coming from a family with alcoholic history could be latchkey children or economically disadvantaged. These high risk youths often possess multiple risk factors. Some of these situations may be related to other individual features. A youth with more than average desire for independence is likely to run away from home or drop out of school. The majority of high risk situations cannot be attributed to individual characteristics. Rather, they are consequences of poverty, unemployment and racial discrimination particularly among ethnic minorities. The burden that results from these problems is often carried by the individual young person.

Environmental conditions also influence young peoples decision to use alcohol. However, some of these environmental conditions are personal in nature. For instance, a distinct social environment is often created by relationships. An individual who lives with parents or roommates who drink heavily experiences a different environment from those who live with parents of roommates who do not drink. School policies and cultural norms are also other environmental factors that affect individuals in close proximity to one another. For instance, students may have a tendency of throwing graduation parties where there is heavy use of alcohol. There may be a contest each year with students from one class attempting to surpass the excesses of the previous classes.

Every young person has a distinct social or interpersonal environment that is made up of parents, peers, siblings and other significant individuals. There is very minimal contention regarding the view that people of any age bracket can be influenced greatly by those significant to them. This sometimes encompasses relationships outside home. Standards of behavior and expectations that are held in common by members of a particular community may also influence an individuals social environment.

Parental influence is also a major factor that contributes to alcoholic tendencies. The initiation of young people into alcohol use seems to be discouraged by warm and positive family relationships, involvement and attachments (Littrell, 1991). A link has also been found between inadequate family management such as poor parent-child communication and ineffective discipline and the occurrence of alcohol use among young people. Because of the tendency by children to model their own behavior based on that of their parents, the use of alcohol by a parent may be indicative of the acceptability of childrens own alcohol use. There is high likelihood of youths using alcohol when their parents are tolerant of the substances and their use (Heather, Peters  Stockwell, 2001).

Apart from parental influences, peers also play an important role in young peoples decision to use alcohol. There is much wisdom in parental concern about the company kept by their children. One of the strongest indicators of alcohol use among adolescents is their association with alcohol drinking peers. Peer influences are particularly strong for the initiation of alcohol use. Some friendships may be based on the use of alcohol and the existence of this situation implies that those who do not use alcohol feel left out. Alcohol using peers are also not tolerant of non-using friends.

It is unclear why young people choose alcohol-using friends over others. One of the reasons may be attributed to the feeling of a sense of belonging among young people and in most cases, it is easier to join alcohol drinking group since one only needs to drink. Various studies suggest that this group comprises of lonely young individuals who need friends (Jurkiewicz  Painter, 2008). Circumstantial influence that is enacted and perpetuated by peers may be seen in the context of pressures emanating from groups that promote conformity and obedience. Total obedience can be secured by peers through the threat of rejection by a group or the enticement of acceptance. An individual who maintains independence from other people apart from conforming to the attitudes of the group may undergo emotional dissonance emanating from the strong need to belong. Autonomy in this regard often has psychic consequences.

The standards for acceptable behavior in societies are set by both adults and youths. Every community possesses these standards and norms for almost every behavior including the use of alcohol. The way an individual perceives these norms may have significant influence on the use of alcohol. Community is a broad concept which may encompass neighborhoods and schools. They normally differ in their practices concerning alcohol use. Differences in alcohol use are also determined by age and gender. For instance, there are particular neighborhoods where alcohol use is the norm rather than exception and those considered to be role models are individuals with alcoholic tendencies. There are other communities that embrace frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol on particular occasions especially among males. There are yet other people who grow up in environments in which the use of alcohol is highly prohibited. Such individuals develop negative attitudes towards the use of alcohol and are unlikely to be involved in its consumption.

The choices to use or not to use alcohol are influenced by the perception about the social norms surrounding its use. This holds true for adolescents as they have an inclination towards particular groups especially their peers. It has been discovered that the prevalence of alcohol use is normally overestimated by young people. This contributes to the perception that everyone is involved with the practice and therefore the desire not to be left out.

Alcohol use is also associated with establishing and enforcing school rules. Schools that have clear policy alcohol reinforced with consistent enforcement minimize the rate of alcohol use. Even though every situation cannot be anticipated by policy, they are always clear about the beliefs and intent of the school. Schools that have strong policies often bar students from engaging in alcohol use. Local law enforcement and community policies also discourage the use of alcohol by young people. Laws meant to forbid loitering in schools or in public places at particular times often discourage individuals from drinking.

Personal circumstances and environmental characteristics do not offer complete explanation to the use of alcohol. There are other environmental factors that may predispose an individual to drink or not to drink. Availability of alcohol also plays an important role in the decision by the youth to use alcohol. The way alcohol is being portrayed in the media is also another important influence on the decision to drink. All these factors depend on the laws instituted by the state or a country that govern the sale, distribution, production and marketing of alcohol.

Alcohol marketing also plays an important role in the decision to use alcohol. Available evidence suggest that the typical teenager is exposed to about one thousand adverts for alcoholic beverages every year (Heather, Peter  Stockwell, 2001) and that the producers of alcohol are aggressive in their marketing. It a well known fact that the establishment of brand loyalty begins at an early age and it does not cost much to maintain the loyalty of customers as compared to attracting new customers. The majority of advertisements for alcoholic beverages mirror a marketing strategy that targets youthful consumers. However, there is still much controversy surrounding the impact of alcohol advertising on consumption.

Studies indicate that teenagers that are heavily exposed to alcohol advertising in televisions and magazines are more likely to consume alcohol than those who have little exposure (Jurkiewicz  Painter, 2008). The same study also suggested that the most powerful correlate of alcohol use is peer influence followed by advertisements. Alcoholic beverage companies often have access to targeted groups through sponsoring activities where they deliver the message that a given brand of alcohol is appropriate for them.

Television also exposes teenagers to acts of drinking which may further entice them into adopting the use of alcohol. A typical teenager will be exposed to numerous drinking acts which portray alcohol as an ideal substance for relieving stress, having fun and being great. This is because every great person in the television uses alcohol in one situation or another. Therefore, young people may learn that alcohol may reduce stress or lessen pain. It is of utmost importance to distinguish between what is biological and what is cultural, what emanates from nurture and what emanates from nature in understanding what predisposes an individual to drink or not to drink. Regardless of the thoroughness of which chemical analysis is undertaken on the trace elements of alcohol, they have very minimal effect on the attitudes and values of individuals who consume it and those who do not consume it. Regardless of the completeness with which psychological analysis can be made on an individual, a change will be realized in his or her behavior in ways that are approximately related to the dose that can be predicted in terms of social norms of the local population. Regardless of how thorough our comprehension of sociological and historical dimensions of the use and nonuse of alcohol in a given society, it matters the type of alcohol being consumed and how fast it is being drank. In simple terms, alcohol is a biopsychosocial phenomenon and ignoring this complexity may lead to partial understandings or misunderstandings.


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