Addiction seems to be a hot-button issue of society as of late, particularly with the influence of the opioid epidemic. Opinions on addiction and therefore addicts range from the utmost sympathy to utter disgust, and it seems to be a frequent social battle on whether or not addicts deserve treatment or an unceremonial death. While people bicker on what current addicts deserve or what their lives should look like, there is arguably not enough attention focused on the trials and tribulations that addicts go through on a daily basis, or perhaps how addiction grasps people in the first place..
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Why do some addicts have a story that evokes sympathy, while others are regarded as similar to trash? How does addiction persevere, despite our best and most modern attempts to facilitate recovery and sobriety? Social theory can provide a variety of answers to said questions, but functionalism, and more specifically strain theory, may provide some telling answers.
Functionalism was expanded in the early 1900s by sociologist Emile Durkheim. Essentially, the understanding of functionalism is that everyone has a place within society, and that some people need to hold the more undesirable roles within society to make it work. The nature of functionalism dictates that it is normal for conflict to exist in the way that it does; our society has been set up a way that facilitates functionalism. According to Durkheim, we exist in organic solidarity, meaning that our modern society causes people to rely on each other now more than ever.
He contrasts this with the idea of mechanical solidarity, which was more of a pre-industrial society, in which people were generally more individualized and tended to their own needs. Durkheim’s ideas here do make sense – think of how many people we interact with for our needs. We go to the grocer or order take-out for dinner, we visit doctors, we buy our furniture, and so on and so forth, when in pre-industrial society, we would have tended to all of these needs simply within the family unit. Durkheim claims that the more solidarity that exists within a society, the less deviance will occur. Another of Durkheim’s points within functionalism is that of the social fact. He describes a social fact as a societal norm or belief that is constructed by the structure of society, and is beyond one individual to change. On the flipside of this is the idea of anomie, or a lack of social facts within a given society. These ideals within functionalism are noteworthy and applicable to society today, and certainly fit in with the understanding of addiction.
A subset of functionalism can provide even more insight to how addiction and addicts function within our society. More specifically, strain theory, proposed by Robert Merton,
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