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Societal Influence on the Development of Alcoholism

Amber Reamy
Ohio Northern University

Alcoholism is a chronic disease that develops as a result of a mixture of genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors. It is characterized by a continuation of habitual alcohol consumption following the realization that it poses a threat to the individual’s interpersonal relationships and social standing. Addiction to alcohol tends to be progressive and untreatable, partly due to the cognitive distortions that commonly accompany the disease, particularly denial. In addition, alcoholics are distinctive in that they place drinking at a higher priority than obligations. The application of Émile Durkheim’s macro-level theories can provide an understanding of alcoholism in terms of society’s influence on the individual. According to Durkheim, in modern societies, individuals are immersed in both a profane and a sacred reality. Symbols are reminders that occur during the profane reality as reminders of the sacred reality and rituals. Rituals are enacted during the sacred reality and further consolidate the emotions that originally made membership to a group captivating. Durkheim also conceptualized “anomie,” a lack of moral regulation over the individual. The lack of regulation over the treatment of alcohol, in particular, makes modern societies prone to alcoholism. Symbols are constantly compelling individuals to engage in the ritualistic act of drinking through alcohol advertising and surrounding conversations about alcohol. Joining a group with symbols of sobriety can establish a new sacred reality within the individual that thrives on the ability to defeat alcoholism. Despite psychological and genetic factors, a possible cure lies within strong group value systems that provide moral regulation over alcohol, as well as rituals and symbols that make sobriety a new, energizing way of life.

North Central Sociological Association; Pittsburgh, PA
Psychology and Sociology