Deviant behavior refers to behavior that does not conform to norms, does not meet the expectations of a group of a society as a whole. After birth, children begin to experience situations with others. They are taught what he or she should and should not do, what is good or bad and what is right or wrong. Learning habits that conform to the customs and traditions of the groups into which the child is born develops a system of values. These values provide justification and motivation or for wanting to refrain from behavior that is disapproved.
After reading this, one can see how a behavior is considered deviant, but the question is, "Why is a certain type of behavior considered deviant?" This paper will take a particular deviant behavior, which is illicit drug use, and examine why this type of behavior is labeled as deviant. By using theoretical approaches, this paper will provide the reader an explanation of why illicit drug use occurs in the first place. Throughout history, all human societies have used drugs, but it hasn't been until recently considered deviant behavior. Drug use was seen only as a personal problem, but today's societies, in general, condemns drug use. There are many reasons for this perception of drug use in our society today.
It's stated that "since a social process creates standards for deviance, consumption of a particular drug becomes deviant only when individuals and groups define it a such" (Clin ard and Meier, 2001). This is seen in new laws and legislation against drug use, making drug use, seen by society, as wrong and criminal. This causes public opinion to look at drug use as deviant because the norms of society have been changed. These new laws were passed by legislation because of the common myth that drug use is the cause of bigger problems of society.
Society is given the belief that drug users posses certain characteristics which include "low self-esteem, social incompetence, inadequate identity, easily influenced by peers, and irresponsible or mindless" (Moore and Saunders, 1999). This tells society that only troubled people use drugs. This common belief holds that people using drugs necessarily have personal problems and lack social skills, which then in turn, threatens personal health and morality to societies well being. Also, medically, reference to elicit drug use is considered drug abuse.
This portrays an image that is unrealistic. It tells society that drugs are a huge problem and that anyone who is associated with drugs has a problem. These common stereotypes about drug users in turn helped create new societal norms. Drug use leads society to believe only certain (bad) people involve themselves with drugs and the only to way to handle this problem is to make the public aware. Hence, creating new laws and stricter enforcement only helps to inform the public of how serious a problem drug use is and in turn, is labeled as deviant behavior.
Now knowing why society believes illicit drug use is considered a deviant act, what type of theories can be best used to evaluate them? First, one has to know a brief explanation of each theory and the reasoning behind each theory. These theories care designed to address a problem area and gain insight into why these problems exist. There are many different types of theories, but this paper will focus on three. The first being the labeling theory. The second being the conflict theory and the last being the learning theory. All these theories will be explained along with what part of each theory will be evaluated.
The labeling theory starts off with the basic assumption that deviance is relative too social or group norms and not inherently characteristic of certain human acts or people. Becker states, "Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance. Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label." (Becker, 1963).
This means as long as the deviance is unknown to others, the individual would not be considered deviant or abnormal. It focuses on the consequences of deviants' interactions with conventional society, especially with the element of formal control. Labeling theory looks at the deviant, which in turn causes them to be considered standard deviant behaviors. However, the conflict theory directs attention away from being labeled and its consequences for generating deviant identities and deviant careers, rather focusing on issues such as who makes the rules and laws, who decides who is deviant and which groups benefit from or suffer by these decisions.
It holds that dominant groups of society have the power to decide which norms and laws govern the society and to ensure that these norms favor their own values, interests, and standards of morality. This means that the conflict theory clearly deals with "the issues of making rules, especially criminal law. Arguing that laws are passed and rules are approved because they support the customs or the interests of the most powerful members of a society, which these groups are able to impose their will on the rest of the society and make sure that laws and rules are favorable to themselves, and possibly detrimental to other, less powerful groups, are instituted" (Goode, 1994), supported by own interests, causes criminal behavior by defining specific acts as criminal or deviant. Last theory to be described is Sutherland's learning theory, which states that criminal behavior is learned behavior due to social interactions with others.
It is a theory based on the social environment and its surrounding individuals and the values those individuals gain from significant others in their social environment. According to the learning theory, deviant behavior is learned based on the interactions we have with others and friends or coworkers, which values either support or oppose the "learning perspective treats deviant actions as learned behaviors developed according to the same basic processes through which non deviants learn conformity." (Akens, 1998). This theory puts heavy emphasis on socialization and what types of influences it has on individuals to become members of groups or the general society. With the knowledge of each of these sociological theories, one will see how these theories are incorporated into illicit drug use and see if these theories can give some insight on explanation on why drug use occurs. The first theory described was the labeling theory. This theory provides an explanation to why the person is deemed deviant and why it keeps occurring.
If someone were caught using illicit drugs by society, this individual would be labeled deviant. Now this individual is labeled as deviant and the drug user would accept this image. Society will only see this individual as a drug user, nothing else will matter to society and ultimately, use more drugs because this is now the master status of the individual. This is how the labeling theory explains the use of illicit drugs and the process of how it is considered deviant. This example clearly shows how the labeling process works when dealing with illicit drug use. It expresses the importance of society's definition of what is deviant and how these definitions can turn drug use is only considered deviant because the laws passed to outlaw them were made by the customs and interests of the most powerful members of society.
Since drugs were pinned as the root of all problems in society, and mostly minorities and the lower class were thought of as users, people in power thought making drug use criminal would only benefit all of society. Ensuring that their values and beliefs would be incorporated to society. This clearly represents how the control theory explains why illicit drug use occurs. The last theory discussed was the learning theory, which is the basic assumption that deviance is learned behavior from social interactions. Theory leads one to believe that if an individual has interactions with someone who uses drugs and these drug users are the only interactions this individual has, soon this individual will conform to this behavior. This can clearly be seen in most teenage groups where peer pressure comes into play.
If everyone is using drugs in your group, then you will be socialized into doing drugs. This is how the learning theory clearly explains drug use, and why it occurs. As you can see with these three theories, they all give different explanations to why illicit drug use occurs in society. In conclusion, one now knows why illicit drug use is deviant and how sociological theories help to explain why drug use occurs in our society. Society thinks of drug use as very negative because mostly of the formal sanctions powered by the legislature. The media portrays the stereotypes of the type of people who use drugs and this only helps fuel societies approach in dealing with illicit drug use.
Society in general needs to refrain from looking at drug use as negative, but look at it as a norm for human beings. Until drug use is seen as a norm, the media and politician will still see that all drug use is a problem, and considered it deviant. Study that would help this issue would be if drug use has any positive benefits that people who abstain from drugs do not receive. Bibliography 1.
Akens, Ronald. 1998. Social Learning and Social Structure: A General Theory of Crime and Deviance. Boston: Northeastern University Press. 2. Becker, Howard.
1963. Outsiders: Studies in Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press. 3. Clin ad, Marshall and Meier. 2001.
Sociology of Deviant Behavior. Orland a: Harcourt College Publishers. 4. Goode, Jack.
1994. A Theory about Control. Boulder: Westview Press. 5. Moore, David and saunders, Bill. 2001.
"Youth Drug Use and the Prevention of Problems." Journal of Drug Issues 13: 219-235.