PRIMARY SOCIALIZATION THEORYTraditional sociological analyses tie secondary socialization sources to behavior, usually using linkage through stress. Situations, personal traits, etc. lead to stress, and drugs relieve them. According to Oetting and Donnermeyer, these secondary socialization sources operate only via their effects on primary socializations sources. Unless a personality trait, a community characteristic, stress, or any other factor influences bonding with the primary socialization sources or alters the communication of norms through those sources, the theory proposes that there will be little or no effect on deviant behaviors. (Oetting and Donnermeyer, 1998)
Thus far (there is to be a series of three articles, only one of which has been published) the major analysis has been of adolescents. Three primary sources of socialization are proposed: family, school and peer groups. While any of these groups are capable of transmitting both prosocial and deviant norms, family and school are seen as being primarily prosocial and peer groups carrying the main risk of trasmitting deviant norms.

Family socialization contains two components which impact an adolescent’s risk for deviance: the strength of the family bond, and the use of those bonds to transmit prosocial norms. Dysfunctional families may either alienate their children and/or provide deviant normative information to them. The family bond of concern in these cases is not just a matter of support of love. It is more specifically limited to the level to which an individual is willing to accept and adopt values and norms from the family, and thus to behave accordingly.

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Society currently assigns schools the responsibility of transmitting certain cultural and behavioral norms. In the same way that there are dysfunctional families, there are also dysfunctional schools which have parallel weaknesses. The typical image of a dysfunctional school, of the resignation to chaos and deviance is only one type. Even in the best schools, there will be alienated peer groups. Poor grades, disciplinary problems etc. tend to erode the bond between an adolescent and school, and thus erode the ability of the school to transmit prosocial norms. These students are forced outside the circle in which other peers may be receiving normative socialization. Studies of these disaffected groups have shown that students experiencing alienation, lack of success within the school framework, and other problems with deriving rewards from school have a greater tendency toward drug use and deviancy in general.

Peer groups form the last primary socialization group, and have the greatest impact on those alienated from the first two groups. These groups may be formed on the basis of, among other things, ethnicity or activity – including drug use. An individual’s choice of peer group has been shown to correlate with their risk of drug use/abuse (Oetting and Donnermeyer, 1998).

Primary socialization theory thus provides a powerful tool in analyzing the sources of risk for subtance abuse. It integrates many other theories, and thus it’s applicability is extremely wide. In terms of policy implications, it points to the importance of maintaining social ties between family, school and adolescents. Moreover, it can reveal certain alienating aspects of punishment as counterproductive in the school’s role as transmitter of prosocial norms. Finally, it suggests that a certain emphasis in creating social bonding among recovering addicts is uniquely important in successfully treating addiction.

As an overall theme, there are two components to all of these instances. First, there must be a strong social bond of a very unique sort. It is one among people who draw upon each other when making normative judgements intimate to their lives, or more specifically, the course of action with respect to drugs. Identification with this group with respect to the judgement at hand is essential for the adoption of similar norms. The second component is that these bonds must become used to transmit that normative information. Strong bonds do not prevent drug use if that identity does not in some way involve a consideration of drug use as deviant.

Finally, the limitations of this theory must also be considered. That is, in some cases, drug use stems from a perception that all social bonds have been severed. Thus the behavior is not learned from an intimate peer group, but from the environment in general. In this case, the old-fashioned analysis of stress relief has more effect, and the prescription for treatment may differ
Oetting, E.R. and Donnermeyer, J.F. Primary Socialization Theory: The Etiology of Drug Use and Deviance. I. Substance Use and Misuse 33 (4): 995-1026 (1991)


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