alcoholism and alcohol abuse 117

and the definition of alcohol depend
ence accompany combinations of industrializa
tion, urbanization, immigration, and population
growth (Heath 2000).
Deviant uses of alcohol involve failures to
perform expected roles and/or destructive or
anti social behaviors. Sociologically, alcohol
abuse is any use of alcohol that is contrary
to social norms governing the circumstances
where the drinking occurs (i.e., alcohol abuse
is not an objective phenomenon, but is largely
socially constructed) (Gusfield 1996). These
behaviors can range from breaking the rules
of small groups to committing murder in an
intoxicated rage. The significance of alcohol
abuse lies in the combination of (1) its relative
prevalence within a certain population or sub
group of that population, (2) repeated and/or
escalating patterns of abuse by individuals,
(3) the extent to which the social and physical
consequences of abuse touch upon moral
codes or key values of communities or sub
cultures within them, and (4) the manner in
which the local culture interprets the causal
relationship between the presence of alcohol
and adverse outcomes.
Alcoholism (or alcohol dependence) can be
viewed as a subcategory of severe alcohol
abuse, while others define alcoholism as a
distinctive disease condition that is triggered
by the interaction of alcohol with physiological
characteristics that biological researchers are
yet to agree upon (Jellinek 1960). The key
feature of alcoholism is repeated events of
alcohol consumption (typically alcohol abuse)
despite notable physical, psychological, and
social costs that accompany such consumption
(Bacon 1973). That this behavior is seemingly
irrational and beyond the individuals control
is one of the bases used to define it as a
disease condition.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are behavioral
patterns that can be found today in nearly all
societies that have moved into some phase of
industrialization. This seeming universality is
an artifact of the globalization of patterns of
western social and economic organization.
There is great variability across cultures and
nations in drinking and problematic drink
ing patterns, and such variations are impor
tant topics for sociological analysis (Heath
2000). For example, it has been observed that
unanticipated drinking problems may emerge
in industrializing nations where regular alcohol
consumption has been normative for centuries.
Problems emerge not from alcohol consump
tion per se, but from the adoption of new
patterns of drinking, such as the consumption
of distilled spirits when drinking customs had
been centered for centuries on beer or wine,
or through patterns of daily drinking in com
mercial bars following completion of work in
settings when drinking had been traditionally
restricted to festivals or other similar occasions
of social celebration.
Sociological interest in ethnic differences in
drinking patterns and problems has led to
studies to understand why some ethnic groups
have very low rates of abstinence from alcohol
consumption accompanied by low rates of
alcohol problems. Orthodox Jews are a parti
cularly striking example of this phenomenon,
and analyses have revealed unique patterns of
social control that encourage alcohol use but
respond sharply to incidents of intoxication or
abuse (Glassner & Berg 1980). Research of
this genre has also revealed that cultural
groups with significant rates of abstinence are
usually marked by significant alcohol pro
blems, with abstinence norms being a signal
for the relatively weak mechanisms of social
control over deviant drinking behavior.
Since alcohol is a potent drug, it is not
surprising that age is a social variable that
generates substantial social control efforts in
industrialized societies such as the US, with
concerns about drinking among American col
lege students and its consequences approximat
ing a level of social panic in the late twentieth
and early twenty first centuries (Wechsler &
Wuethrich 2002). Drinking patterns are linked
to gender. While in most societies alcohol use
and abuse is concentrated among males, indus
trialization, womens employment, and move
ment toward social equality for women appear
to lead to increasingly similar drinking patterns
between men and women, although parity
of drinking between men and women is essen
tially non existent in any society (Wilsnack &
Wilsnack 1997).
Sociologists have had a longstanding interest
in the dynamics of family relationships asso
ciated with alcohol dependence. Research pro
duced a model describing how family structures