Social Learning Theory And Alcohol Addiction

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In modern times, there is a wide range of theories regarding how alcohol addiction is caused and what kind of treatments are the best way to treat alcohol addiction.

Although some of these theories can contradict each other, it’s important to have an understanding of the basis of prominent theories and how they apply to our everyday lives – and more importantly, their applications regarding addiction.

On this page, we are going to explore the social learning theory and how it applies to addiction. We’ll be exploring some of the reasons why a person may become addicted to alcohol, and how alcohol dependence is treated.

Read on to learn more about the social learning theory, alcohol addiction, and how the social learning theory can apply to alcoholism risk factors and recovery from alcohol addiction.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is a term used to describe alcohol-related conditions, including alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. This is because medical professionals have begun to avoid these terms as they can be considered harmful and may stigmatise those with addiction.

Millions of people are affected by this chronic and relapsing disorder around the world, with over 14 million adults diagnosed with it in 2019. Over 414,000 young people within the age range of 12 to 17 also had a form of alcohol use disorder.

The term ‘alcohol use disorder’, often shortened to AUD, varies in severity. Alcohol abuse is considered a milder form of AUD, whereas dependence is a severe form of the disorder. It is widely recognised as a physical and mental illness, ultimately characterised by the lack of control over alcohol consumption.

This means that people with AUD may be unable to/ struggle to control the amount of alcohol they drink, when they start drinking, when they stop drinking, and their general drinking habits.

People with alcohol use disorder may be aware of the negative effects of excessive drinking and alcohol-related problems, but continue to drink alcohol. Likewise, they may have the desire to stop drinking, but struggle to – or try to quit alcohol and end up relapsing.

This is why it’s so important to have support when getting sober – something that a quality rehab clinic can provide. See ‘Help For Alcohol Addiction’ to find out more about how our friendly team of addiction experts at Help4Addiction can help you overcome your addiction to alcohol.

Alcohol Abuse

It’s no secret that millions (if not billions) of people around the globe enjoy alcohol. However, just like any substance, alcohol can be abused. Over 76 million people around the world are affected by a form of an alcohol use disorder, including alcohol abuse.

You may be wondering what exactly alcohol abuse is. Well, it refers to dangerous drinking patterns such as binge drinking. However, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much alcohol counts as abuse, as everybody is different and handles alcohol differently.

For example, a person who has never tried alcohol before could drink the same amount as a person who has drunk alcohol for years and appear much more intoxicated.

That being said, the NHS suggests that people drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread across three or more days. 14 units equate to around one small measure of vodka or gin, or six medium glasses of wine. It’s also roughly the same as six pints of 4% beer.

Although no level of drinking is considered completely safe, sticking within the guidelines and avoiding binge drinking can reduce the risk of alcohol-related damage and AUD.

Substance abuse doesn’t always refer to taking a substance every day. Somebody who abuses alcohol may only do so once or twice a week, but consume a dangerous amount of alcohol (binge drink) during this period to the extent that it has negative consequences.

Binge drinking is also linked to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when somebody’s blood alcohol levels reach a certain point.

It should be considered a medical emergency, as it can be fatal. For example, the combination of symptoms such as vomiting and loss of consciousness can quickly lead to death.

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Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is the more severe form of alcohol use disorder – and refers to the physical or psychological dependence on alcohol.

People with alcohol dependence may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking or lower the amount of alcohol their body is used to.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity, whether they’re physical withdrawal symptoms or psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Some physical withdrawal symptoms can include vomiting, headaches, nausea and vomiting, stomach ache, sweating, hand tremors, and fever-like symptoms.

Psychological withdrawal symptoms can impact your behaviour and your mental health in general.

When you stop drinking while being dependent on alcohol, you may experience anxiety, low mood/ depression, mood swings, as well as difficulty sleeping. You’ll also experience alcohol cravings, which can last for a while.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person. However, the general rule of thumb is that the more severe the alcohol addiction, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms.

Likewise, the length of time that withdrawal symptoms persist can vary, although in many cases, symptoms tend to peak around the third day after your last drink. However, mild symptoms may persist for longer periods.

In most cases, alcohol withdrawal isn’t considered severe. However, there’s a small risk of developing delirium tremens – the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal.

This requires urgent medical care, and you’ll likely have to spend some time in the hospital. If you experience hallucinations or severe withdrawal symptoms, seek medical assistance.

What About Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction doesn’t always refer to illicit drug use. A person with an addiction to drugs may be addicted to prescription drugs that were given to them by their doctor.

Drug abuse refers to using a drug excessively, not using it how it was prescribed, or habitually taking illicit drugs.

Some illicit drugs in the UK include cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ketamine, and many more. Some addictive prescription drugs can include benzodiazepine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and more.

Drug addiction affects the circuits in your brain that control stress, reward, and self-control. Even after quitting drugs, these changes can take a long time to reverse. Ultimately, drug dependence is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder, just like alcohol addiction.

People with an addiction to drugs may continue taking drugs despite the negative effects they can have on their lives. Being addicted to drugs can affect your life in many ways, impacting your finances, relationships, career, and of course, your physical and mental health.

Drug abuse and addiction can impact the functioning of your bodily organs. Often, the damage can be prevented and treated.
However, failing to get the right treatment for your drug dependence or drug abuse can result in these negative effects not only continuing but worsening. Ultimately, drug addiction can result in death if left untreated.

At Help4Addiction, we can find the right drug rehab for you – whether it be cocaine rehab, heroin rehab, or prescription drug rehab.

What Is The Social Learning Theory?

Learning is a complex process, which is why there are so many theories that expand on the reasons why people learn, and how people learn.

The social learning theory was proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura, who suggested that observation and modelling play an important role in the learning process.

He suggested that all behaviours are learned through conditioning – and ultimately, behaviours are learned through observation. The theory considers psychological influences such as memory and attention, too.

For example, young children will often mimic their parents or primary caregivers. Young children may never have thrown a ball before – but if they’ve seen their parents do so, or seen the action performed by others, then chances are, they’ll be able to throw a ball correctly.

Bandura theorised in the social learning model that people observe behaviour both directly and indirectly (e.g through the media), and that behaviours that are rewarded are more likely to be copied. Likewise, behaviours that are punished are likely to be avoided.

Social Learning Theory And Alcohol Addiction Causes

Alcohol addiction has many causes – but how exactly does the Social Learning Theory apply to this?

Factors such as genetics, life experiences, environmental factors and social factors can all affect the risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

The Social Learning Theory suggests that many people end up with addiction problems due to modelling. For example, if you grow up in an environment where other people drink alcohol and are ‘rewarded’ for doing so, then you may be more likely to copy this behaviour.

After all, many people speak of alcohol in positive terms – and is associated in many cultures with relaxing, partying, and generally having a good time.

However, this isn’t the case – and alcohol can negatively impact your life in many ways. Excessive and regular alcohol consumption can lead to addiction, which can be difficult to break once you have a physical dependence on the substance.

In terms of genetics – it could be that people who are genetically predisposed to addiction may be more likely to exhibit these behaviours and fall into the social learning model regarding alcohol use.

Observational Learning

Observational learning supports the idea that children mimic adults’ behaviour. A notable experiment in this field involved a doll named bobo.

Adults acted violently toward the doll, and then, children began to act aggressively toward the doll too, directly imitating the behaviour of the grown-ups.

There are three key models regarding observational learning:

The Social Learning Theory supports the idea that children that grow up in a household where excessive alcohol consumption is a common occurrence may be at a higher risk of developing problems with alcohol in the future.

This is because children or even young adults may observe their parents consuming alcohol and think that it’s okay.

However, according to this theory, it’s not just parents or caregivers that can influence a child’s behaviour. A child exposed to TV shows, movies, or even podcasts that involve alcohol or even speak about alcohol can potentially lead to children turning to alcohol later in life.

The theory also suggests that if a child is not reprimanded for drinking alcohol, they may think that this behaviour is okay, and continue to drink alcohol into later life. This may increase the risk of alcohol addiction.

Cognitive and Environmental Factors

The expectancy theory/ cognitive theory suggests that people exhibit addictive behaviours instead of healthy behaviours as expectations influence environmental factors.

This means that if somebody believes that addictive behaviour has more pros than healthy behaviours, they will choose to go down the addiction route.

In terms of alcohol addiction, this often involves a person succumbing to their alcohol cravings as they believe that not giving in to alcohol will result in harm (e.g withdrawal symptoms). Likewise, this theory could suggest that healthier choices can result in boredom or unfulfillment.

When relating this to the observational theory, a person could see shows or films that portray addiction in a positive light (e.g exciting), and set these expectations.

These expectations could develop, leaving a person struggling to change these beliefs – even when provided with accurate information about the harm of addiction.

However, this idea could be considered harmful, and many people reject the idea that addiction is a choice. Instead, the cause of alcohol addiction is considered to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and personal factors.

A person’s environment can increase the risk factor for alcoholism. For example, if there is easy access to alcohol, then a person may be more likely to drink and ultimately develop an alcohol addiction.

If a person lives in a place where many people abuse alcohol, then that person may be more likely to do so themselves.

Likewise, college students and university students may be more likely to drink purely because it’s considered part of the culture.

If a student hasn’t tried alcohol much before, they may be more likely to do so after watching their friends, flatmates, and other people around campus getting drunk. Peer pressure may also apply to this situation – the willingness to fit in with others.

Social Learning Theory and Alcohol Addiction Recovery

As people, not just children, tend to learn by observing others, it is thought to be helpful for those recovering from alcohol addiction to spend time with others in recovery, as well as people who do not abuse alcohol or are in sobriety.

It can also be beneficial for people in addiction recovery to avoid spending time with people who are in active addiction or currently exhibiting addictive behaviours.

Rehab centres are positive places where people can break free from addiction, and spending time in group therapy or inpatient rehab with those also trying to improve their lives can be helpful, and help them learn and implement new, healthy behaviours and positive coping skills.

Support groups can also be beneficial, as they actively encourage sobriety, and encourage you to spend time and chat with others in recovery. This ultimately reinforces positive behaviour according to the Social Learning Theory and allows a person to see the benefits of sober living.

People with addiction may also have low self-efficacy, which was also proposed by Bandura. Low self-efficacy refers to a person believing they are unable to deal with their problems.

Social modelling during alcohol rehab can increase self-efficacy, and lead to a person concluding that they can improve themselves as they are around others who can do so too.

Help For Alcohol Addiction

If you are concerned about your drinking habits and wish to seek treatment, our team at Help4Addiction can help. We have vast experience helping people find the right treatment plans for them, at the right rehab facility.

With rehab clinics scattered all around England and Wales, we can listen to your story and find out your requirements and preferences to find the best rehab clinic for you.

We have helped countless individuals with a range of substance use disorders find a positive outcome by attending the right rehab clinic, and we can help you too.

Contact our friendly team at Help4Addiction to discuss your treatment options. We can help with addiction for people of any age, from young people to seniors.

We’ll consider your personality, story, requirements and preferences during our initial consultation, which will help us determine the right treatment plan and rehab facility.

Rehab can vary from clinic to clinic – and with so many choices, it can be difficult for you to know where to begin. You may prefer inpatient rehab/ residential rehab, or outpatient treatment. You may wish to undergo rehab as an NHS patient or attend rehab at a private residential facility.

Typically, addiction treatment begins with detoxification. This stage deals with the physical aspect of addiction – so you’ll have no access to the substance while detoxing to free your body of the physical addiction. More severe addictions tend to call for medical detoxes, which include detox medication.

You’ll then move on to addiction therapy, which can not only improve your mental health but help you break the psychological dependence.

Therapies such as CBT, counselling, and group therapy can be beneficial, improving your confidence and teaching you valuable coping strategies.

The support doesn’t have to end once you leave rehab. You may continue receiving support in the form of secondary treatment. This can include telephone support, online support, and in-person support.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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