Factors leading to drug use


Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs: Drug misuse and the environment [1998]:

1. It is the individual who is the ultimate agent who does or does not make the personal decision to misuse drugs and their capacity to make sensible and healthy choices will be weakened or supported by the world which surrounds them.

5. Family, school, work and leisure environments, and peer group influences are part of the environment. So too are cultural beliefs, expectations and attitudes.

3.17 A review of environmental influences will necessarily lean in the direction of an emphasis on the role of friendship networks; neighbourhood and family life; the ways in which drugs are found to be compatible or incompatible with daily routines and lifestyle; whether or not an effective means of access to the drug can be maintained or is regarded as desirable; the extent to which drug use is condoned or stigmatised within a person's social circle. And none of this is to contradict the fact that different drugs are in a pharmacological sense different, with differing properties for reward and reinforcement.

3.40 Low levels of bonding to the conventional social order (i.e. involvement with family and school, and attachment to conventional norms and aspirations) did not in themselves predict either delinquency or drug use. However, where there was both involvement with delinquent peers and a low level of conventional bonding, this was highly predictive - even when controlling for prior involvement in delinquency or drugs.

Chapter 6: What people and communities believe about drugs is as much part of the environment as is the physical surround. We argue that attitudes to tobacco and alcohol are part of this context of ideas and that DATs [Drug Action Teams] should consider the merit of dealing with all substances together.

6.1 The choices people make about drugs, or anything else, are governed by awareness and beliefs - what they feel about something.

6.2 Our thesis is that how people value themselves, whether they think they can control their destiny, how they think they fit in with society and so on will influence whether they take drugs.

6.4 It is very difficult to say how values of an individual are formed ... but the greater influence probably comes from family and friends and to some extent from the society in which the individual lives.

6.5 We think it is a reasonable expectation on the part of the individual that he or she should not be excluded from being a neighbour, having respect of others and respecting themself - that is, being part of society. Those who feel let down by society and see no means of improving their lot may well feel that society has one set of values for the well off and one for them.

6.9 We see awareness and beliefs operating at several levels, or in different layers.

6.10 First there is the layer of what the large society around us believes. Its beliefs are not uniform but contradictory and varied. Some parts want to see drug misusers punished rather than treated while other parts would like to see drugs legalised, arguing that resultant crime would reduce. And there are sections of society which regard their drug taking as use rather than misuse - that is, as a normal and not anti-social activity. Parliament and policy makers' views will be at odds with some part of society's but it will be theirs which at the official level will prevail. Second, there is the layer of neighbourhood. Third, there is the layer of the family. And fourthly, there are the beliefs of individuals themselves.

6.15 For many young people alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs inhabit one and the same world rather than constituting separate domains. The possible influence of their illicit drug-taking behaviour which is exerted by the climate of ideas on licit drugs needs therefore to be considered. The majority of people who have used illicit drugs have previously used tobacco and alcohol. Alcohol and cigarette smoking have been found to be the most powerful predictors of marijuana use.

6.20 Our conclusion is that if society intends to provide young people which an environment which helps them not to take illicit drugs (or to abuse volatile substances), or to reduce the harms which they do, the climate of awareness and beliefs on alcohol and tobacco must be seen as part of the context.

6.42 Sport is also very much part of young people's existence and there is a ready acceptance of alcohol consumption with some sports and indeed prominent sponsorship of some sports by drinks companies. This very open acceptance of alcohol is part of the wider drugs, alcohol and tobacco context to which we referred in paragraph 6.20.

6.44 In short, young people live in a society which acknowledges and accepts drugs to some extent, a state of affairs which arises from environmental factors.

6.76 Most families, most of the time, will act as bulwarks against drug misuse. They achieve this through the parents adopting an approach which includes listening and responding to their children, acting consistently, defining boundaries and supervising them well. Conversely, harsh and erratic discipline, parental conflict, and lack of parental interest or time, will tend to work the other way.

Chapter 9: Deprivation is significantly and causally related to problematic drug misuse.

9.4 The experience of deprivation may have within it a number of constituents such as poverty, inadequate housing, educational disadvantage, and lack of job opportunities. Unemployment and low or relatively low income are often key factors.

9.5 It is important to realise that what we are talking about here is a condition which at the same time will often exist as a potent, corrosive, subjective and personal experience. The mix of feelings are likely to include worthlessness and a sense of failure, powerless and the feeling of not being in control, alienation and apathy and loss of any role as stakeholder, the sense of lacking any hope of a personal way out or up and of there being no better future in sight for one's children.

9.8 In Britain between 1982 and 1996, there was a rise from 10% to 19% in those whose income was at a level below half the national mean. The poorest fifth of the British population have less spending power than equivalent strata in other major Western countries. Poverty levels in Britain had been decreasing up to the early 1980s, but since then we are the only major Western nation to have experienced a significant increase in poverty.

9.47 Deprivation gives rise to personal distress and psychological discomfort of a kind which can result in depressive illness as well as lesser and more amorphous types of mood disturbance. In such circumstances mind-acting drugs (including illicit drugs) can be used as self-medication to relieve distress or as a substitute source of excitement and good feelings.


Department of Health's Dangerousness of Drugs [2001]

p.61 "most adolescents will go through a brief spell of independence-assertion, called ‘adolescent-limited delinquency’, during which they will reject the value system of their parents. This will lead to a period in which deviance is valued, petty crime committed, where excessive drinking is commonplace and where recreational drug use occurs. In general, early adulthood signals the end of this period, with employment and marriage the most frequent catalysts".

p.62 "background characteristics such as parental drug use and family income, anti-social personality, low intelligence and other factors that may increase the risk of all kinds of lifetime problems".

p.62 "there are also contemporary-contextual factors that influence the decisions made here and now about whether to use a drug. These may include availability, opportunity, peer influence and expectancies about what the drug will do".

p. 62 "the dangerousness of an individual substance is difficult to abstract from the context of its use – a context that is likely to include the individual taking the drug, their expectations and beliefs about the drug, the society that defines these beliefs and the likelihood of sanctions and the state of the individual at the time of consuming the drug".

p.64 "calculation of risk associated with any given substance is a multi-faceted assessment embedded within the typical use patterns and circumstances commonly undertaken in particular societies. This is partly a reflection on both societal and sub-cultural beliefs and preferences, but will also be impacted upon by the legal framework within which use occurs. Thus, there is a fundamental dysjunction between the risks associated with readily available legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, and the illicit drugs, for which a criminal justice component is inherent in the profiling of dangers".


DfES - TeacherNet:

Risk factors
There are a range of risk factors, which, particularly, in combination, may make children and young people more vulnerable to drug misuse and/or play a role in the later development of drug problems. These include chaotic home environments, lack of nurturing by parents/carers, parent/carer drug misuse, being in Local Authority care, truanting and school exclusion, school failure, association with drug using peers, early age of first drug use, neighbourhood deprivation or low socio-economic status, physical or sexual abuse, physical disabilities, mental health and behaviour problems, poor coping skills, homelessness, involvement in crime or prostitution and being labelled as a drug misuser.
Vulnerable groups
Vulnerable groups are those at increased risk of the misuse of drugs. Pupils found to be more vulnerable may include those who are in Local Authority care, truants and pupils excluded from school, those who have been physically or sexually abused, homeless young people, those in contact with mental health services or the criminal justice system and those involved in prostitution.