Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Heavy Episodic Drinking among Adolescents: A Test of Hypotheses Derived from Control Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Heavy Episodic Drinking among Adolescents: A Test of Hypotheses Derived from Control Theory

Article excerpt

Abstract

Despite a growing body of literature on the causes of heavy episodic drinking, little attention has been paid to this phenomenon in the sociological and criminological literature. This research assesses the extent to which a popular theory of crime and deviance, control theory, can explain heavy episodic drinking. Analysis of data collected from a convenience sample of 938 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students shows that attachment to parents, belief in the law, commitment to school, and self-control are all strong predictors of adolescent heavy episodic drinking. Thus, control theory contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of adolescent heady episodic drinking. The implications of the control theory notion that social integration is a deterrent to heady episodic drinking are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Heavy episodic drinking among young people is increasingly perceived as an important social problem, and it has received considerable scholarly attention in recent years. The NIAAA created a Task Force on College Drinking in 1998, and in the past several years the journals Psychology of Addictive Behaviors and the Journal of Studies on Alcohol have devoted special issues to heavy episodic drinking. Research has revealed a number of important correlates of heavy episodic drinking, including developmental factors such as the transition to college, individual factors such as impulsivity and fraternity/sorority membership, and environmental factors such as perceived drinking norms and availability of alcohol (NIAAA, 2002). Despite the increasing focus on heavy episodic drinking among both scholars and the popular media, there has been little attention given to this issue in the sociological and criminological literature. Likewise, much research that has been conducted on heavy episodic drinking has not incorporated sociological or criminological perspectives or research findings. The primary purpose of this paper is to assess the extent to which a popular theory of crime and deviance, control theory, can explain heavy episodic drinking in a sample of high school students. We also explore the implications of our findings for further research on heavy episodic drinking incorporating the control theory perspective.

Social control theory (Hirschi, 1969) focuses on social forces restraining individuals from committing criminal or deviant acts, such as heavy drinking. The theory assumes that such behavior is a natural consequence of human nature, viewing deviance as a means to achieve desires with little effort. Thus, social control theory views deviance as nonproblematic, and instead aims to explain conformity. According to Hirschi (1969), most people conform most of the time due to their bond to society, which consists of four elements. An individual's emotional attachment to others, such as parents, deters deviation because individuals are concerned about the loss of respect that would likely result if their deviation were discovered. Commitment to long-term goals, such as educational or occupational pursuits, reduces the likelihood of deviation because it might jeopardize the individual's ability to achieve these goals. Involvement in conventional activities reduces the likelihood of deviance because time is limited--busy people have less time to get involved in deviant or illegal activity. Finally, belief in the moral validity of the law provides an additional restraint from deviance--to the extent that individuals believe that the law should be obeyed, they will be less likely to deviate from it. The four elements of the social bond are analytically separable, but Hirschi argued that they are empirically related--those with a strong bond in one area are likely to have strong bonds in other respects as well. In short, those who are more socially integrated are less likely to deviate from social norms.

A more recent version of control theory focuses less on social control and more on internalized control produced through early childhood socialization. …

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