Griswold, Aronoff, Kernan and Kahn (2008) view culture as a set of beliefs and behaviors that characterize a particular ethnic, social or age group. These sets of beliefs and behaviors are taught or learnt through association with the specified groups. Culture usually defines life given that at every given time every person acts in accordance to certain rules which form part of his/her culture. Culture has a strong influence on adolescent substance abuse. According to Griswold et al. (2008), some cultures allow the consumption of illicit substances as a culturally practice. They gave an example of the Somali and some Middle East cultures which embrace Khat chewing. This paper discusses the influence of culture on substance abuse among the adolescents by looking at five issues underlying it.  

Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes of Cultural Competency

Cultural competency has been defined by Gutierrez, Cerda and Nemegyei (2006) as the ability of individuals to apply interpersonal cultural sensitivity in their normal daily interactions with people from different cultures. This interpersonal cultural sensitivity gives individuals an ability to effectively interact with people of diverse cultures. The knowledge, skills and attitudes of cultural competency refer to the basic components that define this multi-culture interaction ability. Gutierrez et al., (2006) perceive the knowledge aspect as entailing having an understanding of one’s own cultural world view as well as those of other different cultural practices. This knowledge includes an ability to appreciate different cultures as unique from own culture.

 The skills aspect, according to Gutierrez et al., (2006), refers to the possession of cross-cultural skills that will ease interaction with other cultures. The attitude perspective on the other hand implies having a positive outlook of the cultural differences in existent between own culture and that of the others.

Dimension of Culture that Impact Adolescent Treatment and Prevention of Substance Abuse

Griswold et al., (2008) assert that culture affects the traditional uses and abuse of specific substances given that it influences the norms or social practices that govern their use. This assertion is true since culture sets out the norms and practices that the people professing it are to follow. Griswold et al., (2008) noted that the norms and practices that characterize these cultures greatly affect substance use and abuse. These norms further affect how substance use and abuse is to be treated or prevented among the teens in the society. Griswold et al., (2008) additionally argue that the best way to cure the problem of substance abuse among adolescents is to teach and train them to follow the acceptable cultural norms.

Types of Cultural Groups that Adolescents can Belong to that may Influence their Attitudes and Behaviors towards Substance Abuse

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Gutierrez et al., (2006) single out two types of cultures that have the greatest influence on the adolescents’ attitude and behavior towards drug use and abuse. These groups are the peer and the ethnic culture groups. According to Gutierrez et al., (2006), the peer culture’s influence is seen in the sense that the adolescent stage of human growth marks the identity recognition phase. In seeking their identity, the adolescents are sometimes forced to engage in the use and abuse of drugs in order to be acceptable in these peer cultures.

The influence of ethnic culture on attitude and behavior towards use and abuse of substances is evident in communities where strict adherence to cultural norms is observed. Gutierrez et al., (2006) distinguish strong identification with community cultural values as prerequisite to less substance abuse vulnerability among adolescents. Gutierrez et al., (2006) further show that incorporating ethnic cultural components into the substance abuse prevention and treatment programs help to make them more effective.

Impact of Explanatory Model of Substance Abuse on Treatment and Prevention Practice

The explanatory model of substance abuse asserts that drug use leads to crime and the same crime leads to more drug use. This implies that substance abuse and crime are related. According to Griswold et al., (2008) this explanatory model tends to positively impact on the treatment and prevention of substance abuse practice. This assertion remains true in cases where a reduction in substance abuse will amount to a reduction in crime levels. This usually leads to a reduction of substance abuse. If this explanatory model is embraced in the treatment and prevention of substance abuse, results are likely to be positive.

Impact of Movement from One Culture to Another on Substance Use and Abuse

Studies conducted by Griswold et al., (2008) have shown that the movement from one culture to another increases the chances of substance use and abuse among adolescents. Movement from one culture to another leads to psychosocial stress among the teenagers which often lasts for a long time. Griswold et al., (2008) assert that this stressful transition is what increases the risk of alcohol consumption and other substance use among the adolescents.


In conclusion, culture has the greatest impact on the adolescent use and abuse of substances. Culture outlines the set of beliefs and behaviors to be followed and sets out the norms and practices which greatly affect substance use and prevention among the adolescents. Cultural groups like the peer culture and ethnic culture, have the greatest influence on adolescent attitude and behavior towards substance abuse. Apart from these two cultural groups, movements from one culture to another tend to increase the risks of substance use and abuse among teenagers.

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