It is an undeniable fact that there are numerous challenges that society is currently facing. I believe that a growing problem that seems to quickly be getting out of control is that of substance abuse. Substance abuse itself is an obvious issue in general, and the behavior of substance abusers can cause people to act in a violent manner and therefore exist as a direct cause to further deviant and criminal behaviors. This issue stretches across our country, especially into urban areas which are plagued with gangs of drug dealers, drug abusers who engage in crime in an effort to support their habit, and high rates of alcohol related crimes. Rural areas then become essential centers for the growth and shipment of narcotics. Sadly, this is not an issue that only affects the United States, but the entire world. From country to country, more and more people are becoming substance abusers. In the United States alone however, we are able to see the extent of the issue due to the increasing number of drug-related arrests. The rate of drug-related arrests has grown from less than half a million people in 1977 to at least 1.5 million people during the present time. The amount of prison inmates that have been incarcerated for the possession of drugs has drastically increased since 1986 by approximately 300 percent (Siegel, 2006).
Much research has suggested that a great deal of criminals have plenty of experience with drug use and it is also found that such drug users commit many crimes along with those who engage in alcohol abuse. Studies have shown that approximately 4 out of every 10 violent crimes as well as fatal car accidents involved alcohol in some way. As the rate of addiction increases, the frequency and severity of criminality also increases. User surveys have been able to show the obvious connection between drug abuse and crime. In a study conducted by James Inciardi, 356 addicts were interviewed and reported 118,134 criminal offenses within a year. Even surveys of known criminals have shown a distinct link between the two. Surveys involving prison inmates have revealed that as many as 80% have been life-long drug addicts and abusers and more than one-third claimed that they were using drugs when they committed their most recent crime. Data directly from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program indicated that about two-thirds of men and women arrested tested positive for at least one drug. Therefore, it becomes clear that drug abusers may be responsible for a significant amount of crime that goes on in this country (Siegel, 2006).
Violence in general may be a consequence of certain individuals ingesting mood and mind altering drugs. Evidence shows that high amounts of PCP can quickly produce aggressive and violent behavior. Alcohol abuse has also been linked to all types of violence due to the fact that drinking excessively reduces one’s cognitive abilities, therefore making communication more difficult while limiting the ability to make rational choices. For instance, almost half of all reported sexual assaults are in same way associated with the perpetrator or victim’s consumption of alcohol. Strong addictions to drugs and alcohol also make people behave criminally when users try and find financial resources to help support their habit. These people are willing to resort to violence and other crimes such as robbery in order to support their addictions. Studies have clearly shown that drug addicts commit hundreds of crimes every single year while trying to support their expensive and destructive habits. Violence also is known to escalate in instances where drug dealing gangs are fighting for territory, which therefore results a significant amount to the rate of urban homicides (Siegel, 2006).
Despite efforts devoted to controlling substance abuse, the use of these mood-altering drugs is persistent in the United States. There are many views that look toward explaining why people engage in the use of drugs. One explanation involves the subcultural view. People who agree with this explanation view drug abuse as being environmentally based and therefore focus their attention to addiction of the lower-socioeconomic class. Because a large number of drug addicts are poor, the onset of abusing drugs is commonly tied to factors such as racial prejudice, low self-esteem, devalued identities, poor economic status, and a high level of negativism, mistrust, and defiance that is commonly found in impoverished locations. Residents of such areas constantly feel trapped in a never-ending cycle of drug abuse, violence, and utter despair. Teens in these areas of disorganization often join their peers in search of drug use techniques that can help them fit in and receive social support for such habits. Studies have shown that influence from peers is an important predictor of drug use and abuse that grows stronger as teens mature. The existence of drug use in some areas also works to split some communities into sections of affluent abstainers and poor and desperate drug abusers (Siegel, 2006).
A different theory in regards to the onset of drug abuse is the psychological view. According to this view, not all drug abusers live in lower-class areas. There is a clear problem with drug abuse within the middle-class as well. Many experts link substance abuse with cognitive impairments in functioning, personality disorders, and emotional disorders that can easily affect all economic classes. In these cases, drugs help people cope with their unconscious impulses and needs and provide relief from depression in the form of dependence upon drugs. In many cases, people turn to drug use in order to self-medicate and reduce the emotional strife of dealing with disturbing impulses, adolescence, or traumatic life events. For instance, many people who have been sexually abused or assaulted may turn to drugs as a coping strategy. People who suffer from severe depression may use drugs as an alternative to a more drastic approach such as suicide. When researching common traits of drug abusers, there is in fact a strong presence of personal pathology. Many studies have discovered that addicts are suffering from personality disorders that can be characterized by a low tolerance for frustration, a weak ego, and anxiety. Other addicts exhibit sociopathic or psychopathic behaviors, therefore forming a personality prone to addiction (Siegel, 2006).
There is also the theory of rational choice. Many people believe that individuals choose to abuse drugs simply because of the instant rewards it brings them in the form of a relaxing high. In many cases, people experience an increase in creativity while under the influence of drugs. It allows people to literally escape reality even for a little while and this manages to be quite appealing to many people. This could also be linked to the social control theory which maintains that all people are born with the potential to disobey the law and that our society presents citizens with many opportunities to engage in illegal activity. Criminal behaviors such as drug abuse may serve as exciting pastimes for people and hold a promise of gratification and rewards immediately; especially in cases where teens feel the need to fit in, engaging in drug use may enhance their self esteem and self image and therefore minimize negative attitudes. According to Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory, while all people may have the potential to abuse drugs, most people choose not to because they fear that doing so will harm their personal relationships.
From the perspective of those who follow the interactional theory, people may engage in drug use because of weakened relationships with parents and a lack of commitment to school and beliefs in traditional values. This view acknowledges the influence of social class as well. Teens growing up in poor and socially disorganized areas stand the greatest risk of becoming involved with illegal drugs because of the deviant attitudes from those in the surrounding area who can act as teachers for delinquency. Many people believe however that in some ways, drug abuse may be genetic or that it may be learned. Studies of supported all of these theories to some extent, however, they each do not exist without their own flaws. Someone who has witnessed their parents use drugs from a young age may be more likely to engage in drug use while people are also more likely to become an addict if their mother or father was an alcoholic while they were growing up. Clearly there are many theories as to why this problem affects and consumes so many people, however, the true reason probably stems from factors within each of them (Siegel, 2006).
The federal government is working hard to try and control this quick and vastly moving issue. In 1956 for example, the Narcotic Control Act was approved in order to increase the penalties that drug offenders face. Since this time, many federal laws have focused on increasing these penalties even more in an effort to try and limit the manufacture and sale of substances. State laws are very similar to the federal laws in regards to punishment for drug users and dealers. Some states currently contain strict punishments for selling drugs which could result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years. However, many people in our society think that the punishments for drug offenders are too harsh and in turn actually believe that we should legalize drugs in order to put the money used to prevent drug use into other programs (Siegel, 2006).
There are a number of various control strategies for drugs which have been attempted with many different degrees of success. Some of these plans involve deterring drug use by means of stopping the movement of drugs into our country, apprehending and punishing drug offenders, and becoming harsher on street level drug deals. Other plans look to prevent drug use by educating those who are potential users by making them aware of the dangers of drug abuse and therefore convincing them to literally “say no to drugs”. Many communities have organized groups to work with the population of at-risk people in the area. Another common approach is to focus on treating those who are already addicts by helping them control their habits (Siegel, 2006).
These strategies do not exist however without their individual problems. Source control, for instance, becomes a problem because it is difficult to stop production of drugs in other countries that may rely on that income as an essential source of revenue and therefore destroying the drug trade would then undermine the economies of other nations which in turn could lead to even bigger problems. Even so, reducing the amount of drugs produced may not even have much of an effect on the United States’ consumption since the amount of products grown each year is so vast. Also, drug users in this country are more willing and able to pay for drugs than anywhere else in the world and therefore, regardless of if the supply was reduced, the remaining existing drugs would manage to find their way into our country somehow (Siegel, 2006).
Another issue with this strategy is the fact that the nations that supply the greatest amount of drugs would not be easily influenced by our country. For example, Afghanistan is responsible for about 75% of all the opium produced, yet, since we destroyed the Taliban government, it is not likely that they would be willing to cooperate with such strategies. Border patrols and military personnel are also trying to intercept supplies before they enter our country, however, the borders of this country are so vast as well as unprotected that it is nearly impossible to intercept all supplies. Even if this was an option, people would simply turn to homegrown and homemade drugs such as marijuana and LSD or PSP. Clearly there are many strategies that focus on controlling and deterring drug use, however, none of the methods used are guaranteed to stop this issue (Siegel, 2006).
Siegel, L. J. (2006) Criminology. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth