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Youth and Drugs (Sociology of Narcotism) Ľ

SOCIOCULTURAL ASPECTS OF DRUG ADDICTION: QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE PROBLEM

Y. A. Svezhentseva

* Originally in Russian:
Svezhentseva, Y. A. (2000). Sociocultural aspects of drug addiction: qualitative analysis of the problem. In: Youth and Drugs (sociology of narcotism) (eds. V. A. Sobolev and I. P. Rushchenko), pp. 84–129. Kharkiv: Torsing.

It has been more than one hundred years that scientists try to find out the reasons of drug taking, but up to the present no common conception reflecting the system of reasons of this phenomenon has been created. The main drawback of sociological and socio- psychological research of the reasons of drug addiction is the shortage of attention to the fact that the reasons can be different at each stage of getting accustomed to drugs and first taking of soft drug, hard drug and further systematic drug taking should be studied separately. According to the opinion of specialists of various scientific orientations, the process of drug spread is of epidemic character. That is this process should be studied as an epidemic. The specifics of this phenomenon is that the process of “infection” is first of all of sociocultural character.

This doesnít lessen the role of psychological and physiological factors, in the process of selecting the groups of risk and also as catalysts accelerating the development of the disease. But this subject field is outside this research and needs quite different methods of measurement. The main objectives of our research are in the study of 1) sociocultural causes of forming the “risk groups”, 2) sociocultural consequence and cause and effect mechanisms of the first drug taking, 3) sociocultural factors, contributing to and preventing from the development of drug dependence.

We consider the process of drug accustoming, as the sequence of events in the life of a person leading to drug dependence. In practice all drug addicts make decisions themselves to take drugs for the first time or to continue drug consumption.

Forcible drug taking happens very seldom. In connection with this it seems reasonable to study the process of drug taking as the sequence of social actions, in which the actor makes the decision himself, feeling outside compulsory or restraining influence. Besides one should take into account the internal system of the organization of the actor or using the language of synergie approach, regulation or fitted information. Such information or regulation makes some actions of the actor more probable than others without any external influence. Internal regulation of a person is interesting, because it may contain without any external influence, internal intention to drug consumption and defence mechanisms, which are preventing it.

In our research we accentuated deterrent and favourable factors, internal ones typical to a person and external ones, typical to a situation, the network of social relations of a person and valuable norms, characteristic to these relations. External factors are interesting here not for themselves, but as interpreted by a person. It allows to separate those factors which have had forcible or deterrent role in decision making to take a drug from those factors, which have not had due influence.

This research studied the sequence of the most important events in the life of a drug addict: the moment of the first trial of a soft drug, hard drug, the next career of a “drug addict”, the moment of awareness of self as a drug addict “in the system”. Each such an event is considered as the choice of the action by a social actor under the joint influence of internal and external forcible factors and deterrent.

All his previous life experience, the world vision typical for him, life values and objectives have been studied to investigate the internal organization of a person. The chosen theoretical scheme stipulates researchers to apply the methods of interpretative sociology which allow to understand how external influence, interpreted in consciousness, comes into contradiction with the internal organization of a person at the moment of choosing the action.

As a result of this contradiction the action of a person ó to try a drug, is born. At each stage of a career of a drug addict such an approach gave us the possibility to single out the contributing factors which can be interpreted as reasons and restraining factors, the absence or weakening of which can be considered as the causes of this phenomenon as well. The qualitative approach is in conducting interactive, deep, semiformalized interview of drug addicts, focused on different stages of the course of life: childhood, events before the first trial of drugs, the first trial, further involvement into drug culture, transition to harder drugs, subsequent life events etc.

The interview was supplemented with two psychodiagnostic tests, allowing to understand the life world of the interviewed better.

The patients of the first Department of the 9th Hospital for drug addicts have been interviewed. The interviewed, who have been treated from different forms of drug dependence and those, who want to get rid of it and those who are not going to stop drug taking. The procedure of selection was the following: those patients were interviewed, who visited the physician ó expert in narcology in definite days of the week, at the fixed time. The general characteristics of the participants of the interview are given in the table.

The main task of the researcher when he applies the methods of interpretative sociology ó to single out the typical, repeated from one observation to the next one. During the interview the fact, which was worth paying attention to is that 20 from 24 people interviewed characterised the living standard of their family in childhood as very high, much higher, than average. Three quarters of the interviewed, who showed that the living standard of the family in childhood was very high, had the parents, who worked at such positions and in such spheres where the amount of income, as can be suspected, did not depend on the salary received. Among the interviewed the percentage of children of parents, who work as top managers and those who work as chief accountants at large enterprises and high schools is very high. Recollecting childhood, the majority of the interviewed said that the parents indulged them, presented expensive gifts: “all my wishes were fulfilled at once”. The relations built in such a way formed the so-called paralysis of the will, incapability to resist temptation. Besides, the combination of such factors as high family budget and income, example of the parents, who break the law to get illegal income, not knowing the word “no” from childhood ó all this created the illusion that everything is allowed, a special attitude to limits and bans: they can be broken. As consequence of upbringing, under conditions, when everything is allowed, the majority of the interviewed had serious problems with discipline at school. At older age for six persons some breaches of discipline at school were followed by criminal acts. Half of the interviewed told about their extremely low grades at school. For the majority of the interviewed such features as indefinite plans for the future, strong desire to have much money, existence without aim, parasitic attitude, inexpressiveness of high values, imitation, were typical, all that characterises a person, who is not formed. The families of many interviewed can be called unhappy. Five people said that their fathers had alcohol problems, seven people said that they had no fathers. Thirteen people out of twenty-four, had no proper mother control in the period before the first drug taking.

First drug taking: internal defence of a person and external compulsion

Internal defence is understood as the stable aim never, under any circumstances, to take drugs. Such confidence is strengthened emotionally by the fear of drugs, based on the knowledge about negative consequences of taking the drugs spread most of all. The version, which is not so strong is: “grass” is not a drug that is why you can smoke from time to time, but nothing heavier is allowed (“injection”, “pills” etc.) canít be taken. Absence of internal defence, typical for a person, who has not tried a drug, is never expressed in the strong confidence that any drug can be taken, if it is available. Such confidence is rarely typical even for drug addicts “in the system”, on the contrary they are sure of the fact that drugs canít be even tasted ó otherwise it is fatal. Most of the interviewed were sure that you should live without drugs, they wanted to get rid of them, but they were not sure that they would be able not to take drugs. “If only somebody could wipe this strip off my brain”.

Only after many drug trials, but before the formation of the dependence, there appears confidence that any drugs can be taken, if you control yourself, not to become a complete drug addict. Orientation for drug taking is a temporary period. It is accompanied by the fact that a person is not aware of himself as a drug addict, doesnít identify himself so: “they are dirty, degraded people, I have nothing common with them”. Only after some period of time there appears an awareness of your dependence and weakness, regret that you have ever tried the drug. It would be correct to say that such confidence reveals itself distinctly, when a drug addict suffers from material difficulties. These were the problems, which were the main reasons of seeing the doctor of oneís own free will. While the person, who takes drugs has no dependence on drugs yet and is not aware of the taboo for first drug taking, he is the most dangerous for people around him.

Even those drug addicts who were not earning money by drug distribution often have drawn in taking drugs many of their acquaintances and even the nearest and the dearest people. They were stimulated by the awareness that they share pleasure with them, open a new world for them, help to relax and calm down. For a person who doesnít take drugs, absence of internal defence was usually expressed in the lack of any thoughts about drugs. All information about drugs they had ó were stories about it in their neighbourhood. Such a person is like an open book, where information from friends, other people who turned up in their company by chance, is written down. Such information doesnít usually come from “the finished, disgusting, degraded drug addicts, but from acquaintances”, who have trust and respect of people, who only are at the initial stage of drug taking, who know how pleasant it is, but are not aware about the consequences. It is possible that such teenagers, who are not protected, have heard something about the harm of the drugs from their teachers. But taking into account the fact that they usually had conflicts with teachers, had low grades at school, one can presuppose that this information was not to be trusted. If social environment is well acquainted with drugs, having appeared in the situation where one is invited to join, the person without internal protection agrees without hesitation.

At this very moment he doesnít have a fear (“a lot of people do like this, and nothing happens”), an idea about possible addiction, that is possible not to stop, to lose oneself. Some people even talked that they didnít know anything about the “system”, didnít think about it being a real drug, just naughtiness. The main motives ó “itís interesting to try something new”, “of boredom”, “in a jest”, “not to be a stranger in a company”, “to be respected”, “not to be taken as still a little boy”. Such a man quickly goes from soft to hard drugs, tries everything he can consume.

To analyse the data of the interview we divided all those interviewed into: 1) those, who didnít have any internal defence of a personality from drugs (13 people) and 2) those, who had at least some rudiment of such a defence (11 people). We obtained interesting results as soon as all these interviews made were put into order, depending upon the age of a drug addict. As it turned out, the absence of protection orientation was characteristic for younger respondents. Apparently, it is connected with more active offensive of the narcoenvironment recently and stipulated by the latter specific forming of a notion about drugs among the part of the youth.

The first group of drug addicts had very similar biographies. Their life can be called “quick and free sinking into drug addiction and drug culture”. Under certain conditions internally unprotected person is sure to start taking drugs. These conditions are as follows: 1) living in an area of traditional drugsí consumption; 2) availability of drugs; 3) acquaintance with people, who were already taking drugs and who know the technology of making drugs and their consumption; 4) entering an informal grouping of youth with deviant behaviour, engaged in looking for “untraditional entertainment”; 5) absence of control on behalf of parents; 6) monotonous, boring pastime, absence of possibilities for the youth to spend free time usefully and with interest; 7) abundance of free time connected with missing lessons by the respondents, the latter didnít work or were employed at “season work”; 8) the possibility to earn good money by selling drugs.

The category of respondents, having some protective orientation against drugs is more interesting for the researcher. You canít say that all of them had stable orientation not to use drugs. Sooner there was a fear before the untested power of drugs, the fear not to stop the realisation that “you can get into drugs in such a way, first once, and thenÖ” Such people try drugs later. It often happens that they start with hard drugs from the very beginning. The part of our respondents had protective orientation against hard drugs, but at the same time they thought that to smoke “grass” is quite possible. Some of them had experience of contacts with drug addicts “in the system” and saw how terrible it was. The destinies of these people are various, but every one of them had a period or a very short period of time, when under the influence of external factors, internal defence of a personality against drugs becomes weaker or fails. The research let us single out the external factors destroying the not strong internal defence of a personality from drugs and bringing to the reduction of self-control. It refers to: 1) durable contacts with a person, you are intimate with, who takes drugs; 2) durable contacts only with one company of friends, taking drugs (when there is a lot of free time in particular, i.e. a person studies and works nowhere, has a rest after “season work” etc.); 3) selling drugs as a way to earn good money; 4) heavy working conditions in a social environment which got used to removing stress and fatigue with drugs; 5) military service; 6) serving of a sentence for a criminal offence; 7) outstanding life circumstances reducing self-control; 8) contacts and activity in a specific social environment traditionally taking drugs (musicians, traders in the markets, businessmen, “shuttles” etc).

The interviews made let us have a more profound understanding of the stage of a drug addictís destiny as a secondary drug taking and continuation of a process of getting addicted. The analysis showed that this stage was going on almost in a similar way with those respondents who didnít have primary orientation against drugs. Practically all of them began to take drugs (“to move”) at once, took actions for looking for them on their own, changed their environment sharply finding themselves in a company of local drug addicts “in the system”. Among those eleven respondents, who at the moment of drug tasting had at least weak protective orientations against hard drugs, the majority repeated taking in a week, after that more often and more often, “from occasion to occasion”, “when in a suitable mood”. The majority of them were fully dependent on drugs in a half a yearís time. One respondent repeated drug taking in 6 months, one more ó in a yearís time. After the first test of a hard drug, the life without “getting high” seemed to them more boring and grey. The moments, when drugs were taken “in high spirits” came more often, plunging a man into full dependence. The majority of the interviewed think that if a person once tried a hard drug sooner or later he will repeat the taking. “A drug can wait”, ó sounded practically in all interviews done.

To the problem of forming the idea about drugs

It is difficult in our time to imagine a man, who has never heard about the harm of drugs. How can it be explained that part of the interviewed didnít have protective orientations against drugs at the moment of the first test? How and from which sources is the idea about drugs formed among the youth? Which of these sources form the idea about drugs, preventing from their trying? And promoting? The results of qualitative analysis of the interviews done and qualitative analysis of the data of the sociological poll of age groups let us answer these questions and estimate the efficiency of the currently existing system of prevention of the process of drug addiction of the youth. The research confirmed the fact that drugs and narcoculture are gradually becoming a real component of the everyday life of the youth not depending on whether a person is taking drugs or not. The information about drugs like an increasing flood is falling upon the consciousness of young people. Besides, it is obvious: 1) the inequality of the strength of various sources of information, i.e. the prevalence of information from the mass media, from friends and acquaintances, taking drugs, over the information received from parents, mass media, teachers and doctors and policemen; 2) the warp of influence for the benefit of drug use in general structure of this information, that is strong, favourable for the drug taste, influence of friends and acquaintances, who take drugs, alongside with ineffective restraining influence of parents, mass media, teachers and doctors. In other words, at the given moment there is practically no counteraction to the offensive of the narcoculture on the consciousness of the youth. Thatís why the fact that among the interviewed drug addicts younger people didnít have any protective orientations against drugs is not surprising. They were subjected to stronger influence of the narcoculture through their environment, the age peculiarities strengthened this influence. The factors, contributing to forming these protective orientations, were absent.

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