6.5 Social theories

We live in a complex world with many factors that influence our behaviours.  As discussed in psychological theories, we learn from many areas including individual, family, peer and community.[1]  Substance use may be familial, a person may have watched a parent or caretaker use alcohol on special occasions or more frequently.  Perhaps you had a parent who smoked tobacco, and this may have played a role in whether you smoke.  These social connections that are critical for our development as babies, toddlers, youth and into adulthood play a role in what we do, how we act, and how we live.

6.5A Activities

  1. Brainstorm a list of things you do each day, from morning until night.
  2. Scratch out everything you do in a group.  What is left?
  3. How much of your daily interactions are with a group?
  4. How did you learn to do each activity you do daily?

Social connections are also important for our health.  Think back to the beginning days of the COVID-19 pandemic and how many people were negatively impacted by the social gathering restrictions.  Some people increased their substance use to cope with the isolation.[2]  Some people used technology to connect with family, friends, and even with their workplace.

6.5B Activities

  1. Brainstorm a list of things you did to cope with the isolation from the pandemic.
  2. Did you increase your substance use?
  3. How important is social connection in your life?
  4. Did technology help?

Social connection is an important factor in wellness and subsequently whether a person uses substances.[3]


Social learning theory suggests behaviour is influenced by the interaction of personal, social, and environmental factors including intrapersonal factors, interpersonal factors, institutional or organizational factors, community factors, and public policy.[4]  This is intersectionality.  If you have been negatively impacted by one of these factors, are you susceptible to a substance use disorder?  The research indicates yes; remembering it is one risk factor and does not mean it WILL lead to a substance use disorder.  This theory is often used in counselling in supporting individuals with substance use disorders as it allows supporters to focus on individual, environmental, and societal factors.

Food For Thought

  • Reflect on a happy memory from your childhood.
  • Identify everyone who was involved.
  • What were the factors that make this memory so wonderful?

The social factors that influence us are complex.  Many of the treatment models use a social-ecological approach, identifying factors like trauma, adverse childhood experiences, mental health, racism, as well as self-efficacy.

  1. Connell, C. M., Gilreath, T. D., Aklin, W. M., & Brex, R. A. (2010). Social-ecological influences on patterns of substance use among non-metropolitan high school students. American Journal of Community Psychology45(1-2), 36–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-009-9289-x para. 5
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2021). COVID-19: Focus on substance use and stigma. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2021/05/covid-19-focus-on-substance-use-and-stigma.html
  3. Every Mind Matters. (2019). Social connection. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1EYcVpQeeE
  4. McLeroy, K. R., Bibeau, D., Steckler, A., & Glanz, K. (1988). An ecological perspective on health promotion programs. Health Education Quarterly, 15(4), 351-77.  https://doi.org/10.1177%2F109019818801500401


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