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Introduction

In Australia, alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug, with the wide usage resulting to alcohol being socially accepted in the Australian society, and not often considered as being a drug. However, research evidence indicates that consumption of alcohol to harmful levels is increasing in Australia (Hoops, 2012). Much of the drinking occurs in the form of binge drinking. This essay seeks to explain the phenomena of binge drinking through the symbolic interactionism theory. To achieve this, first the essay will first consider why binge drinking is a social problem. This will be done by discussing statistics of binge drinking from the Australian context and the social effect attached. Next, the essay will discuss the theory of symbolic interactionism and lastly, apply the theory to explain binge drinking. In doing this, literature materials will be used to back to support arguments used in the essay.

 

Social problem

According to the Australian Drug Foundation (2014), alcohol is the widely abused drug in Australia. 86.2% of Australians aged 14 years and above have drunk alcohol at least once in their lives with 37.3% of those consuming alcohol on a weekly basis. The greatest number of alcohol users in Australia is in the age bracket of 70+ years. Binge drinking according to the Australian Drug Foundation is the most common platform for alcohol abuse. According to Hoops (2012) and Roche, Bywood, Freeman, Pidd, Borlagdan and Trifonoff (2009), the use of alcohol in Australia is so common that many don’t consider it as being a drug and harmful hence they end up drinking too heavily at time, binge drinking (Matthews, Dietze, Room, Chikritzhs & Jolley, 2013).

Binge drinking is harmful in a number of ways, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Some of the short-term harmful effects include hangovers, headaches, memory loss, vomiting, shakiness, and nausea. In some instances, there is the risk of overdosing alcohol hence alcohol poisoning which leads to death. The are other problems related to binge drinking and these may include car accidents, injurious falls, unplanned pregnancy, reckless spending while intoxicated, and shame and embarrassment (Connor, Norton, Ameratunga & Jackson, 2004). Long-term effects of binge drinking according to Taylor, Irving, Kanteres, Room, Borges, Cherpitel and …Rehm (2010) include being psychologically and physically dependent on alcohol, and the increased risk of developing brain or liver damage. Prolonged use of alcohol has also been linked with sexual dysfunction, and increased cancer risk for example throat and stomach cancer.

Binge drinking is drinking heavily over a short period with the intention being to become intoxicated, and the result is immediate intoxication. In addition to single occasion drinking, binge drinking is also continuous drinking over a number of days or weeks, therefore, binge drinkers are prone to the long-term effects of alcoholism. According to Taylor et al. (2010), binge drinking is direct effects to the community chief among them being reduced production as some might take to drinking during official working hours and those who indulge in binge drinking during off office hours, they are unable to be fully productive in their workstations as a result of the short-term effects discussed above. In addition, binge drinking affects the society through reduced reproduction as intoxicated family owners are unable to raise to the occasion, with long-term binge drinking resulting to sexual dysfunction.

According to research by Matthews et al. (2013), binge drinking is more harmful that consuming the same amount of alcohol over a number of days. Roche et al. (2009) reported that the majority of problems related to alcohol consumption are common among persons who binge drinking than in alcoholics. The report indicated that binge drinking is more related to injurious cases, social problems, and diseases of the liver as well as risk to high blood pressure, thrombosis, and sudden cardiac deaths.

In addition to the above problems, majority of the revenue that would have been used for otherwise productive investment at an individual level is used up in binge drinking. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that, when drunk, it is highly likely for one to partake in reckless spending (Gmel, Heeb and Rehm, 2003; Australian Drug Foundation, 2014). From these problems and effects of binge drinking, it is concluded that binge drinking in the Australian context is a social problem.

 

Theory description (Symbolic Interactionism, SI)

SI is founded on the process of human interactions in the society to form meaning for individuals. The inspiration for the SI theory is believed to have originated from Dewey from the belief that human beings can be understood in practical and interactive relations with their environment (Blumer, 1969). SI theorists look at the signs and meanings that are attached to behaviors. In this case, SI theorists would look at the meaning behind binge drinking in Australia as to explain the social phenomenon, as well as the information passed when a person is indulging in binge drinking, and how such information creates their “reality” with relation to binge drinking.

SI theory is founded on the perspective that human beings are social in nature. Individuals are inseparable with the society they live in and each is created through social interactions understood in terms of the other (Blumer, 1962). The behavior that an individual has is a result of forces within human beings e.g. instincts, external environment, and drives and a reflection is socially driven by interpretations of the external and internal stimuli that are present (Loseke, 2003). According to Blumer (1969), there are three premises which describe the basis of symbolic interaction: (1) humans beings action towards things is based on the meanings the things have to them, (2) the meaning attached to a thing arises or is derived from the social interactions that person has with others, (3) these meanings are handled and modified through an interactive process that is used by the person in dealing with the things he/she comes across.

From the above three premises, the importance of the component of meaning is apparent and according to Burke (1980), it has been identified as the central idea in SI. Humans don’t simply respond to events, situations, and circumstances directly because they have thinking capability, but rather give these events, situations, and circumstances meaning. These means characterize human action and behavior and they are created through interactions with self or with others (Burke, 1980; Blumer, 969).

The process of internalizing of conversation according to Charon (2004) and Stryker (1980) is thinking. Human action under SI is therefore caused by interaction and individuals in a society, as well as the interaction within a self. According to Charon (2004), the continuous and active ongoing process of thinking, conversation with one’s self during interaction with others and when alone is vital in understanding action. SI has been argued to be a reflection of micro sociological perspectives.

 

Theory application (Binge drinking through SI perspective)

As established above in description of the theory, SI involves a micro-level approach to interactions between people, groups, and institutions in the society. Binge drinking would therefore be addressed within the paradigm by examination of the social settings through which an individual experienced binge drinking and those around him/her that her influencers and/or are influenced by him/her (Scarpitti, Nielsen & Miller, 2009). For instance, if Bill is a binger drinker and is from a family that drinks liberally and honors heavy and intoxicating drinking, then it is important that when addressing Bill’s binge drinking problem under SI, the therapist should put into consideration this distinctive value set and culture of the family. In such a case, binge drinking is supported to a greater extent by the family than other groups. the framework under Si for this case would consider binge drinking as a problem of an individual – limited to Bill and his immediate network – and it would need to be addressed at a micro-level.

SI perspective focuses on the social meaning attached to binge drinking. (1) If the first binge drinking experience was defined as being pleasurable, then it is highly likely that the practice will recur and the person get involved in frequency binge drinking escapades. (2) Binge drinkers learn and get motivation and drinking techniques through interactions with binge drinking groups. For a first-time drinker, he/she learns what to experience and how to define the experience. (3) Symbols are vulnerable to manipulation and use for economic and political agendas (Scarpitti, Nielsen & Miller, 2009).

SI explains the social problem of binge drinking through the Sutherland’s differential association. This is usually applied to deviant behavior and it uses symbols to explain binge drinking (Lernert, 1967). Binge drinking through SI perspective is as a result of a number of promoting events and situations in the Australian society. First, Binger drinking has been largely glorified and ‘accepted’ as being a ‘cool’ normal in the Australian context (Matthews et al., 2013). Due to the normalization and glorification of binge drinking, the majority of teenagers especially in there campus years take into binge drinking is the ‘mark of maturity’ and as a fun activity mainly because of the cultural relevance binge drinking has been awarded by the society. First time binge drinkers do so mainly due to the positive experience that has been presented by those around them.

The continued existence of binge drinking as a social problem in Australia is because of the fact that the event has remained largely celebrated among members of the community and it is widely accepted as the standard method of enjoying a comment with friends, and its role in entertainment, and in occasions related with having fun. Binge is widely used over the weekend where it has is considered to be the standard drink for passing time, or the measure of having fun and celebrating. Binge drinking is common in events in celebration events as a result of the general culture of the society with relation to binge drinking.

 

Conclusion

Alcohol is the widely abused drug in Australia. 86.2% of Australians aged 14 years and above have drunk alcohol at least once in their lives with 37.3% of those consuming alcohol on a weekly basis. Binge drinking is the most common platform for alcohol abuse. Binge drinking is harmful in a number of ways, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Binge drinking in the Australian context is a social problem. SI perspective focuses on the social meaning attached to binge drinking. (1) If the first binge drinking experience was defined as being pleasurable, then it is highly likely that the practice will recur and the person get involved in frequency binge drinking escapades. (2) Binge drinkers learn and get motivation and drinking techniques through interactions with binge drinking groups. For a first-time drinker, he/she learns what to experience and how to define the experience. (3) Symbols are vulnerable to manipulation and use for economic and political agendas. SI explains the social problem of binge drinking through the Sutherland’s differential association. This is usually applied to deviant behavior and it uses symbols to explain binge drinking.

 

References

  1. Australian Drug Foundation (25 November 2014). Facts and resources about alcohol and drugs, statistics. Retrieved on 20 October 2015 from http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/topics/quick-statistics#alcohol
  2. Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  3. Blumer, Herbert (1962). “Society as Symbolic Interaction”. In Arnold M. Rose.Human Behavior and Social Process: An Interactionist Approach. Houghton-Mifflin.
  4. Burke, Peter J. (1980). “The Self: Measurement Requirements from an Interactionist Perspective.”Social Psychology Quarterly 43:18-29.
  5. Charon, Joel M. (2004).Symbolic Interactionism An Introduction, An Interpretation, An Integration. Boston: Pearson.
  6. Connor, J.,Norton, R., Ameratunga, S. & Jackson, R. (2004). The contribution of alcohol to serious car crash injuries. Epidemiology, 15(3): p. 337-44.
  7. Gmel, G., Heeb, J.L. & Rehm, J. (2003). Research and the alcohol industry. Addiction, 98(12): p. 1773-4; discussion 1774-5.
  8. Hoops, Sean B., (2012). Socialization with Alcohol or Alcohol as Socialization: An Actor-Network Theory Approach to Understanding College Student Alcohol Use. Honors Projects, Paper 35.
  9. Lernert, E. M. (1967). Human deviance, social problems and social control. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  10. Loseke, D. R. (2003). Thinking about social problems. New York NY: Aldine de Gruyter
  11. Matthews, S.,Dietze, P., Room, R., Chikritzhs, T. & Jolley, D. (2013). The social location of heavy episodic alcohol consumption in the Victorian population. Drug Alcohol Rev, 32(2): p. 157-61.
  12. Pascal, R.,Liang, W., Gilmore, W. & Chikritzhs, T. (2013). Risks of alcohol-attributable hospitalisation and death in Australia over time: Evidence of divergence by region, age and sex. Australas Med J, 6(3): p. 134-51.
  13. Roche, A. M., Bywood, P., Freeman T., Pidd, K., Borlagdan, J., Trifonoff, A. (2009). The social context of alcohol use in Australia. Adelaide: National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction.
  14. Scarpitti, F. R., Nielsen, A. L., & Miller, J. M. (2009). A Sociological Theory of Criminal Behavior.Crime and Criminals Contemporary and Classic Readings in Criminology (2 ed., p 211). New York: Oxford University Press.
  15. Stryker, Sheldon. (1980). Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.
  16. Taylor, B.,Irving, H.M., Kanteres, F., Room, R., Borges, G., Cherpitel, C., Greenfield, T. & Rehm, J. (2010). The more you drink, the harder you fall: A systematic review and meta-analysis of how acute alcohol consumption and injury or collision risk increase together. Drug and alcohol dependence, 110(1–2): p. 108-116

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