Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Adolescent substance use motivation
What motivates adolescents to use illicit drugs ?
Drug use has become an important issue within contemporary society, especially within adolescentstheory of reasoned action, sensation seeking theoryand social learning theory provide the most solid frameworks for understanding this increasing and common issue. Furthermore, current studies and literature aim to further explore the various motivations and drives that promote and influence drug use amongst adolescents. A review of current literature also identifies additional factors that influence adolescent drug use motivation including biological determinants, peer influence and the impact of race and socioeconomic status. Links to associated videos are provided throughout the chapter as extra resources for understanding and learning of the topic and chapter themes.. Current research and theories seek to explain the underlying reasons and motivations for why adolescents use substances. This chapter provides a sound understanding of the motivations that underlie adolescent, illicit substance use. Drug use can lead to a multitude of problems that affects a great number of facets within society (White & Bariola, 2012). Furthermore, due to the increasing level of research dedicated to substance abuse and potential treatment and intervention options . It is also important to understand where possible abuse and addiction can be traced back to, in order to provide sounder and more solid frameworks for dealing with the potential consequence of adolescent drug use. The
The Australian Bureau of Statistics refers to the term ‘drug’ as any substance that produces an effect where mental processes are altered. This includes tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs (although legally available) as illicit along with their illegal counterparts (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2008). However, for the purpose of this chapter, a large focus will on illicit drugs which includes cannabis, heroin, cocaine, hallucinogens, amphetamines, ecstasy and other ‘designer’ drugs. Adolescence is the transitional phase of growth and development that occurs between the onset of puberty and adulthood (Clark & Nguyen, 2012). While there is debate concerning the specific age group associated with adolescence, general agreement is placed upon those aged between 10 and 19 years (Clark & Nguyen, 2012).
It has become increasingly common for an association to be made between adolescents and illicit drug use. In 2007, the national drug strategy household survey found that 23% of people aged between 14 and 24 years reported using illicit drugs during the previous 12 months, which was twice as high as those aged 25 and older (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2008). Cannabis was also noted as the most common drug of choice with 18% of users, followed by 9% for ecstasy and 4% for methamphetamines (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2008). Theorists suggest that adolescents commonly begin using cannabis before moving onto harder drugs (Ajzen, 1985). This is highly representative of the fear that a great deal of parents have concerning their own children and possible drug use. However, more recent research has dismissed this notion, stating a lack of evidence to support this claim. Common associations are made between adolescents and drug use and possible reasons for why there is commonly such a great link between the two. A strong point of focus should also be made toward the common associations made between adolescents and drug use. Specifically, why it is widely considered that illicit drug use is not only frequent within youth, but can often become a precursor for potential addiction and abuse issues . Studies toward this link are supported through findings that indicate that strong motivations are positively associated with age groups (Melnic, De Leon, Hawke, Jainchil, & Kressel, 1997) . This is further supported through biological theories that suggest that a reason for this concerns the immature cognitive mind frame of adolescents is commonly characterised by impulsivity and risk taking (Melnic, et al, 1997). Due to the fact that impulsivity is commonly associated with adolescents as opposed to adults, the eventual decrease of impulsivity that decreases with age could commonly explain reasons for higher levels of drug use within adolescence rather than adults. Although it is important to mention that level of impulsivity within an individual is not a constant or completely predictable. Therefore this biological framework is seemingly not applicable to all persons. Selected studies have promoted the idea that there is a direct link between adolescent drug use and mental health.
A study conducted by the Department of Health found that there was higher reported rate of cannabis and recreational drug use in adolescents who had reported with mental health issues than those who had not (Clayton, 1992). This then suggests that there may be a strong and direct link between adolescents who suffer from mental health problems and also partake in illicit drug use. One of the most common and frequent associations made between adolescents and drug use involves the influence and importance of peer acceptance. In some sub-cultures drug taking behaviour can be the focal point of a particular social gathering and drug use can become a focus of belonging. The potential cost of saying no or missing out can seem like a greater sacrifice than taking the illicit substance (Bauman & Ennett, 1994). Arguably, this concept is not a complete representation of the role that peer influence can play on drug use; however it does encompass popular thought concerning adolescent behaviour in social situations and/or in the company of peers.
A strong point of focus should be made toward the common associations made between adolescents and drug use. Specifically, why it is widely considered that illicit drug use is not only frequent within youth, but can often become a precursor for potential addition and abuse issues. Studies toward this link are supported through findings that indicate that strong motivations are positively associated with age groups (Melnick et al, 1997). This is further supported through biological theories that suggest that a reason for this concerns the immature cognitive mind frame of adolescents is commonly characterised by impulsivity and risk taking (Clayton, 1992). Due to the fact that impulsivity is commonly associated with adolescents as opposed to adults, the eventual decrease of impulsivity that decreases with age could commonly explain reasons for higher levels of drug use within adolescence rather than adults. Although it is important to mention that level of impulsivity within an individual is not a constant or completely predictable. Therefore this biological framework is arguably not applicable to all persons.
Drug awareness educational video (4.42 mins.)
Psychological theory application
How do Psychological theories help us to better understand the motivations behind adolescent drug use?
Psychological theories help to provide solid reasons for understanding why persons partake in a great deal of behaviours, specifically adolescents and drug use. Although arguably a great number of theories could be applied to the social issue at hand, three have been chosen to best provide evidence supporting possible motivations underlying illicit drug use in adolescence. It is important to note that no one theory will be able to adequately and wholly support a certain behaviour without potential flaws and criticisms, which will also be noted throughout the analysis of chosen theories.
Theory of reasoned action
The theory of reasoned action (TRA) was first developed by Martin Fishbein in the 1960s, where a large focus is placed upon a person’s intention to behave in a specific situation (Azjen & Fishbein, 1980). It is theorised that the applicability of this theory to adolescent substance use is quite high . A reason for this is that it relies on three factors in order to determine behaviour. Attitudes toward a behaviour, beliefs about the outcome of the behaviour and an evaluation of the potential outcome of a behaviour (Azjen & Fishbein, 1980). Essentially, these three factors rely upon personal norms about a behaviour that derive mostly from peers, family, colleagues etc. Therefore the understanding and development of a behaviour is reliant on how a person would feel the people surrounding them would interpret it (Ajzen, 1985). When applying this theory to adolescent substance use, a great deal of motivation to partake in such behaviours is heavily reliant upon potential approval or disapproval given by the people that surround them in life . As a result, this theory is deeply reliant on an individual’s personal norms and beliefs concerning a certain behaviour. One might argue that a person’s understanding of the norms associated with drug use, is very dependent on the way in which drugs are values, perceived and understood within contemporary society and associated sub-cultures. Therefore it is suggested that the reason for continued and increased motivation for adolescents to partake in illicit drug use is dependent on common and current perception on what they learn as the norm for that behaviour (Clayton, 1992).
There are a number of reasons for why current adolescent norm perception concerning illicit drug use is not as disapproved as it debatablyshould be . Research suggests that parental influence, peer group effects and even the way drug use is portrayed through various media outlets is challenging preconceived notions and norms concerning drug use (Fishbein & Azjen, 1975). Therefore, in reference to application to TRA, a reason for lack of depth concerning attitude formation to a potential behaviour is a result of current and seemingly more modernised social norms toward drug use on a whole. For example, individuals who are raised in a home where alcohol is frequently consumed without major punishment may come to see frequent drug use as normal behaviour. Another example of this could be seen through the television show ‘Breaking Bad’, a popular cult hit show which relies heavily upon the glorification of drug use, abuse and distribution in order to appeal to and entertain a wide and age varied audience. The show however, is only one of many media based avenues that are not only glorifying drug use, but also redefining adolescent norms concerning illicit substance use. It is evident through analysis of applicability of TRA to illicit substance use in adolescents that it fails to cover all aspects of possible motivations underlying the behaviour. A significant criticism of this theory is that while arguably, adolescents who have different norms toward substance use seemingly disregard potential outcomes of the behaviour . Some theorists would argue that the makeup of a person’s attitudes toward a certain behaviour are highly reliant on potential judgement and approval/disapproval given by peers, friends and family (Ajzen, 1985). Therefore, this theory is inadequate in explaining the motivations behind adolescents who partake in illicit drug use despite people who might place judgement on them . An example of this would be a fifteen year old boy raised in a devout, catholic household who smokes cannabis on a weekly basis.
Adolescent drug use portrayed in fictionalized media (1.13 mins.)
Sensation seeking theory
The sensation seeking theory, proposed by Marvin Zuckerman provides a strong framework for understanding the motivations that drive adolescent drug use. It is characterised by the drive for varied and intense experiences and the willingness to take risks in order to do so (Zuckerman, 1979). Previous studies have acknowledged the association between sensation seeking and adolescent drug use . Theorists argue that for a high sensation seeking adolescent, drug use involves illegal risks that would encompass high stimulation for an individual (Newcomb & McGee, 1989). Current research also suggests that high sensation seekers often underestimate the potential risks associated with drug use as opposed to their low sensation seeking peers, therefore less likely to distinguish drug use as a risk behaviour (Zuckerman, 1994). Due to the arousal effect that illicit substances has on the human body. It is likely that adolescents not only enjoy partaking in the risk taking behaviour, the effect on an individual psychically and mentally would also provide the necessary arousal experience for a high sensation seeking individual.
The applicability of sensation seeking theory to adolescent use of illicit substances is extremely high. A large reason for this is the proposal that sensation seeking tendencies commonly intensify during adolescence (Hovarth & Zuckerman, 1993). Therefore, as a result, illicit drug use is highly likely to appeal to sensation seekers. A recent study which explored the association between sensation seekers and adolescent drug use found that high sensation seeking traits were present in participants who reported cannabis use (Martin, Kelly, Ravens, Brogli, Brenzel, Smith & Omar, 2002). This then suggests that there a strong and evident link between sensation seeking and adolescent drug use. While this theory can be strongly applied as a potential explanation for the motivations that underlie adolescent drug use, Zuckerman proposed a potential flaw. While it has been previously believed that sensation seeking urges are at their peak during adolescence. He determined that sensation seeking is higher in men rather than women and does not intensify and peak until late teens (Donohew, Hoyle, & Clayton, 1999). This then suggests that both gender and specific ages plays a large role in the applicability of sensation seeking theory to adolescent drug use. More specifically, this theory fails to address those aged less than ‘late teens’ (when sticking to the framework of ages 10-19). Due to reported substance use starting as young as 11, Zuckerman’s own criticisms of this theory also fails to address possible motivations for adolescent drug use when initiated at a younger age.
Social learning theory
The social learning theory plays a predominant role into the exploration of motivations behind adolescent substance use. Developed by Albert Bandura, this theory proposes that patterns of behaviour are acquired through direct experience or through the observation of others (Bandura, 1971). A great deal of research has been dedicated to the potential link between observational learning and adolescent drug use. Current research suggests that peer influence is a major cause of adolescent drug use (Bandura, 1971). Bandura suggested that behaviour is learnt through a process of operant conditioning, where the behaviour is shaped by the consequence that follows it (Bandura, 1977). Furthermore, through imitation or modelling of others behaviour, an individual’s actions are largely governed by what they are exposed to (Bandura, 1971). This theory aptly explains certain motivations behind adolescent drug use, specifically to individuals who may have grown up around illicit substances, or friends who also use drugs. Social learning then suggests that a large reason for adolescent drug use is a reflection of social and peer influence. Dinges and Oetting (1993) support this concept, reporting a significant relationship between the particular substances used by adolescent and their peers. 41.6 % of non-using adolescents had friends who used marijuana compared to 97.5% of marijuana users who had friends using marijuana (Dinges & Oetting, 1993).
Recent literature argues that adolescent drug use develops largely when an individual forms a sense of belonging to a certain peer group, which in turn influences their definitions of norms, expectations and models for imitation. Akers (1979) suggests that individuals both experience and observe reinforcement or punishment for drug use, and their norms and expectations with regard to drug use are shaped accordingly (Akers, 1979). Essentially, adolescent drug use motivation relies heavily on peer influence and associated behaviour’s witnessed. A criticism of this however is that the effect and influence of illicit drug use is highly reliant in an environment where the behaviour is deemed an acceptable social norm. Therefore social learning theory somewhat fails to support adolescent drug use that occurs in either an environment where it is unaccepted or around people who do not partake in similar behaviours. An example of this can be seen in a recent news story that involved adolescents from rich and privileged families being involved with illicit drug use . It was reported that when surveyed, affluent adolescents scored significantly worse than those from lower socio-economic background in all indicators of substance use. Furthermore, high alcohol and cannabis use was more frequent among adolescents of well educated, high income, two-parent families (Dinges, & Oetting, 1993). This then suggests that while there are obvious issues when applying the framework of the social learning theory to adolescent substance use . It does provide an adequate and applicable understanding toward adolescent motivations for partaking in illicit drug use.
What does current literature propose as possible and additional influences for motivation underlying illicit drug use in adolescents?
In addition to the theories discussed, numerous literature reviews explore additional contributing factors to the motivations that underlie adolescent drug use. This includes biological explanations, the role of peer influence, gender roles and the impact of race and socioeconomic status.
A significant focus is placed upon biological determinants of motivation, specifically relating to adolescent substance use. Twin studies suggest that there is a strong heritable component to illicit drug use and more specifically substance abuse (Weinstein, 1993). This suggests that the likelihood of adolescent to partake in illicit drug use behaviours is result of a genetic predisposition. However, studies stress that this model is more applicable and associated with cases of abuse and addiction rather than casual drug use . A common thought associated with biological frameworks for behaviour is the continuation of the nature versus nurture debate. Further explanation of biological applicability toward adolescent drug use could challenge the concepts proposed by the social learning theory which is focused solely on the idea that behaviour is learnt and not inherent.
Peer influence based literature is a sole focus for many adolescent, motivation based studies. Certain studies have explored the relationship between peer influence and strength of a relationship . Research suggests that a high-quality relationship is a greater predictor of peer influenced behaviour due to a desire for approval (Alliaskarov & Bakiev, 2014). This suggests that observed behaviours are more likely to be strengthened if the relationship between an individual and their peers is strong. If not, a behaviour could be a direct representation of what is observed by an individual, regardless of the relationship between and individual and the model (Bauman & Ennet, 1994) . There are some studies that challenge the association commonly made between peer influence and adolescent drug use . It is argued that not all adolescents are likely to be influenced by their peers (Bauman & Ennet, 1994). This then suggest that peer influence is unable to account for all acts of illicit drug use within adolescents. However, the obvious similarities between peer influence based studies and core ideas proposed by the social learning theory is highly evident despite potential criticisms.
Race and socioeconomic status
Various studies have explored the link between race, socioeconomic status and adolescent drug use motivation. Current literature proposes that social categories such as class and race greatly influence exposure to societal roles and expectations (Kulis, Fransisco, Marsiglia, & Hurdle, 2003). Therefore illicit drug use is greatly influenced by social standing and social norms on the issue. Current research supports this, stating that people from low socioeconomic classes and racial minorities are more likely to use drugs, alcohol and tobacco in a high risk manner This applies directly to components of the theory of reasoned action . It is suggested that if common understanding of consequences commonly associated with illicit drug use is representative of the norms and attitudes of a sub-group . Then the attitudes and norms associated with drugs use is already tainted from pre-existing norms and attitudes that connect low socioeconomic status, class and minority racial groups to increased levels of illicit drug use . However, it should not be assumed that all minority groups within society have created separate sub-cultures that condones illicit drug use and associated consequences. Research also does not specify that adolescents who come from a lower class level, socioeconomic background or ethnic minority group are automatically assumed to use illicit substances .
A great deal of literature and research is dedicated to the motivations that underlie adolescent, illicit substance use. The theory of reasoned action suggests that motivations for adolescent drug use are driven by understanding of social norms and potential consequences of a behaviour. Social learning theory proposes that substance use is a result of observed behaviour and sensation seeking theory promotes the idea that those seeking out high sensation experiences are more likely to partake in behaviours that promote this feeling. Additional contributors are biological factors and hereditary components, peer influence and the strength of personal relationships and how race and socioeconomic status contributions to individual social and expected norms concerning illicit drug use. A great deal of research can aptly provide understanding of the motivations that underlie adolescent substance use. However, it is important to note that due to some flaws within each framework provided, there is still room for clearer and greater understanding. The most important message to take from this chapter is ideally a broader and more clear understanding of the factors that contribute to adolescent substance use motivation. It is hoped that future research and exploration of this predominant social issue will attempt to create better understanding amongst all persons and help with the development of programs aimed at prevention and treatment of those suffering from substance issues, now and in the future.
Click on the link below to watch a short video of true and real accounts of adolescent drug use
" Much more needs to be done to identify, understand and contain the forces which lead to individuals to resort to drugs... Information and a better understanding of the problem are essential prerequisites for progress in meeting this aim".
Giorgio Giacomelli. Executive Director of the United Nations International Drug Control Program.
Alliaskarov, B., & Bakiev, E. (2014). The social learning and social control determinates of alcohol use among youth in Kyrgystan. Prevention and Policy, 21(3), 205-210.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, Australian Capital Territory in focus 2002, cat. no. 1307.8, ABS, Canberra
Ajzen, I. (1985). From decisions to actions: a theory of planned behaviour. Health Psychology. 4(2). 224-243.
Azjen, I & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding attitudes and predicting social behaviour. New Jersey. Prentice Hall.
Bandura, A. (1971). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory of aggression. Journal of Communication, 28(3), 12-29.
Bauman, K & Ennet, S. (1994). Peer influence in adolescent drug use. American Psychologist. 49 (9). 820-822.
Clark, T & Nguyen, A. (2012). Family factors and mediators of substance use among African American adolescents. Journal of Drug Issues. 42(4). 358-372.
Clayton, R. (1992). Transitions in drug use: Risk and protective factors. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Donohew, R, Hoyle, R & Clayton, R. (1999). Sensation seeking and drug use by adolescents and their friends: Models for marijuana and alcohol. Psychological Bulletin. 117(1). 67-86.
Fishbein, M & Azjen, I. (1975). The theory of planned behaviour. American Psychological Association. 50(2). 179-211.
Haas, K. (1981). Twin similarity for usage of common drugs. Clinical Journal of Biology. 69. 53-59.
Hovarth, P & Zuckerman, M. (1993). Sensation seeking, risk appraisal and risky behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 41–52.
Kulis, S, Fransisco, F, Marsiglia, A., & Hurdle, D. (2003). Gender Identity, Ethnicity, Acculturation, and Drug Use: Exploring Differences among Adolescents in the Southwest. Community Psychology. 31 (2). 167-188.
Martin, C, Kelly, T, Ravens, M, Brogli, B, Brenzel, A, Smith, W & Omar, H. (2002). Sensation seeking, puberty, and nicotine, alcohol and marijuana use if adolescence. Child Adolescence Psychology. 41(2). 1495-1502.
Melnic, N, De Leon, R, Hawke, J, Jainchil, E & Kressel, P. (1997). Biological foundations for adolescent substance abuse. Journal of Health Psychology. 14(2). 125-136.
Newcomb, M. D, & McGee, L. (1989). Adolescent alcohol use and other delinquent behaviors: A one year longitudinal analysis controlling for sensation seeking. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 16, 345–369.
Weinstein, N. (1993). Testing four competing theories of health protective behaviour. Health Psychology. 12. 324-333.
White, V & Bariola, E. (2012). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011. Melbourne: The Cancer Council, Victoria.
Zuckerman, M. (1994). Behavioural expressions and biosocial bases of sensation seeking. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zuckerman, M. (1979). Sensation seeking: Beyond the optimal level of arousal. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence.