Psychological factors related to alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol is often a gateway or first step to the use of other drugs. This module will also address positive coping skills to help resist the temptation to use alcohol or other drugs.

Learning Objectives

This module introduces you to the psychological factors related to alcohol and other drugs. The topics that will be covered include:
  • Use, Abuse, Dependence, Addiction
  • Costs of Addiction
  • Legal Problems
  • Loss of Judgment
  • Safe Decisions
  • Use, Abuse, Dependence, Addiction
Use, Abuse, Dependence, Addiction

The four psychological aspects that will be covered are:
  1. Use
  2. Abuse
  3. Dependence
  4. Addiction
1. Use

Peer pressure to use alcohol is found throughout American society. Think about the word “drink.” When you hear a person say “I want a drink,” would you logically go get them a glass of water? The word “drink” has often come to mean an “alcoholic drink.” Here are some examples:
  • “Let’s go have a drink.”
  • “No thank you, I don’t drink.”
  • “He has a drinking problem.”
  • “She quit drinking for health reasons.”
  • “You are too young to drink.”
2. Abuse

When asked why they drink, many young people answer “to get drunk.” While “drunk” is a subjective term, it is usually associated with feeling “high,” released inhibitors, or different behavior. When a person is drunk, they are usually incapacitated by alcoholic beverages. Yet, you can be impaired after only one drink. If a person feels that it is necessary to consume a great deal of alcohol or other drugs to have a good time, to fit in with the crowd, etc., this behavior will occur.

For persons under age 21 in Florida and throughout the country, drinking any alcohol is abusive drinking because it is illegal.

3. Dependence

Just as a person can become physically dependent on alcohol or other drugs, it is possible to achieve a mental dependence. Mental dependence is dependence that results because a drug produces pleasant mental effects. This type of dependence produces intense cravings and strong urges that lead to alcohol or other drug abuse. It may be more significant than physical dependence.

4. Addiction

Psychological addiction can be explained by the “addicted to pleasure” theory. Certain areas of the brain, when stimulated, produce pleasurable feelings. Psychoactive substances are capable of acting on these brain mechanisms to produce these sensations. The desire to feel good and have the pleasurable feelings associated with alcohol or other drugs drives a person to continue using the substances.

People at the highest risk for drug use and addiction are those who maintain a constant preoccupation with getting high, seek new or novel thrills in their experiences, and are known to have a relentless desire to pursue physical stimulation or dangerous behaviors. These types of people are classified as sensation-seeking individuals.

Costs of Addiction

Addiction is expensive and can destroy relationships, disrupt families, cause individuals to lose their jobs, and cause economic problems.

Alienation of Friends and Family

Heavy drinkers often alienate their friends and family. The only people that stay close are those who also drink heavily. While friends initially may seek to provide excuses for abnormal behavior, as time goes on, these friendships disappear. Sexual functionality has strong psychological components which may also be impacted by addiction. This is not only an indication of poor health, but can impact your relationships.

Heavy drinking can also be detrimental to family life, often leading to arguments. Family members become alienated because of addiction-related problems. Homes with heavy drinkers often have higher divorce rates and higher rates of child abuse. In the event of a divorce, you may lose custody of your children

Loss of Job

Losing a job not only cuts off income, but it has strong psychological repercussions. The psychological importance of work is demonstrated by one of the first questions we tend to ask when we meet a new person - “What do you do?” Being late for work, absenteeism, and poor performance because of drinking or other drug use often lead to being fired. It can also lead to an inability to concentrate, which results in mistakes and accidents at work.

Heavy drinkers may put off their responsibilities at work - if you never get things done, you will get fired. The work area is often the last component of a drinker’s life to be affected. When an individual loses their job because of alcohol or drug use, this is a serious sign of a problem. This often leads to chronic unemployment, which means less income and also looks bad on a resume.

Personal Economic Cost

In addition to loss of income from being fired from a job, there are many other costs associated with abuse of alcohol and other drugs that quickly add up. Heavy drinking can lead to poor decisions that often come with a cost. Possible money issues related to alcohol or other drugs use include:
  • Cost of the substance
  • Fines for offenses
  • Lawsuits if activities cause damage or injury to another, including legal fees
  • Increased insurance costs because of crashes, both car and medical
  • Health care costs, including hospitalization
  • Attorney fees
  • Necessary therapies
  • Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation housing
  • Vehicle Repairs

Legal Problems

There are many legal problems caused by inappropriate use of alcohol and other drugs which are very serious, and the record of these issues can follow an individual throughout a lifetime. Examples of legal problems include:
  • Loss of license
  • Jail
  • Probation
  • Civil suits
  • Community service
  • Damage to property, others and your own
  • Fighting
  • Damages to your car
  • Divorce
  • Loss of child custody
  • Traffic violations
  • DUI
  • Public intoxication
Specific Florida laws related to these penalties will be covered in a later section.

Loss of Judgment

As related previously in the section on alcohol’s effect on the brain, judgment loss is one of the first adverse aspects of use of alcohol.

Impaired individuals believe their judgment is fine, or perhaps better than normal. The opposite is true. A sober person will likely make a better decision than if they are impaired.

Think about some examples of poor decisions you have observed others making after consuming alcohol or other drugs. Typical examples include:
  • Driving Too Fast/Slow - Alcohol can cause either of these conditions. For young people, it is more likely that they will drive too fast after drinking because of their natural risk-taking propensities.
  • Engaging in Sex - Alcohol can make people believe that sexuality is enhanced. In addition, since the part of the brain which permits clear and rational decisions to be made is impaired, they are much less likely to consider the many possible negative consequences of sex (disease, pregnancy, guilt, reputation, etc.).
  • Failing to Do School Work - Persons who are “hung over” or in varying stages of impairment are unlikely to make school work a priority and the quality of any work done is apt to be poor.
  • Arguments/Fights - Alcohol tends to produce aggressive behavior at a time when clear thinking has been affected. This often results in physical or verbal assaults.
  • Spending Too Much Money - This could be on alcohol for the individual or buying excess amounts for other people because of reduced decision-making ability.
The reason for many of these poor decisions is release of inhibitions. Inhibitions are self-imposed restraints that help us keep a check on our actions and stay out of troublesome or embarrassing situations.

Alcohol as a Gateway Drug

Not only does alcohol lead to addiction and dependencies, but it is also a gateway drug. A gateway drug is one which precedes the use of illegal or illicit drugs. Alcohol use has been shown to make it more likely that adolescents experiment with illegal drugs.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that alcohol drinkers were more likely to use an illicit drug at least once, compared to non-alcohol drinkers. Over 52% of alcohol users had used an illicit drug at some point in their lives compared to only 8% of non-alcohol users (9).

People choose to drink for a variety of reasons. These include:
  • Taste
  • Relaxation
  • Cope with problems
  • Celebrate
  • Get "drunk"
  • Peer pressure
While alcohol or other drugs may make a person forget problems, these problems do not disappear and often new problems are created because of drinking or using other drugs.

Positive Coping Skills

Life can be stressful and you may need a way to help you deal with your problems. You use coping skills that can be positive or negative. Positive coping skills involve making choices that resolve problems. Negative coping skills involve suppressing or hiding your problems and keeping them to yourself. Negative coping skills include drinking and using other drugs, acting violently or fighting, driving recklessly, over/under eating, and withdrawing from friends and family. These things just mask the problem, providing you with short-term relief. Using positive coping skills will help you resolve problems and reduce stress more quickly than using negative coping skills. Examples of positive coping skills include:
  • Exercising
  • Eating regularly
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Cultivating helpful friends
  • Learning to say “NO”
  • Listening to music
  • Playing games
  • Talking to a friend or family member about your problems
Using these positive coping skills will keep you from becoming dependent on alcohol to hide your problems. Positive coping skills are a much healthier way of dealing with your problems and will help you avoid all the economic, legal, and family issues that come with alcohol addiction.

SUMMARY Review

Psychological factors related to alcohol and other drugs address mental processes and behavior. When driving, the brain must be able to quickly determine how to react to information and then send instructions to your arms, hands, legs, and feet to steer and control the speed of your vehicle.

If a person feels that it is necessary to consume a great deal of alcohol or other drugs to have a good time, fit in with the crowd, etc., abusive behavior will occur. For persons under age 21 in Florida and throughout the country, drinking any alcohol is abusive drinking because it is illegal.

Mental dependence is dependence that results because a drug produces pleasant mental effects. This type of dependence produces intense cravings and strong urges that lead to alcohol or other drug abuse.

Addiction occurs when the desire to feel good and have the pleasurable feelings associated with alcohol or other drugs drives the desire to continue using the substances.

Addiction is expensive and can destroy relationships, disrupt families, and cause individuals to lose their jobs.

Examples of legal problems caused by inappropriate use of alcohol and other drugs include:
  • Loss of license
  • Jail
  • Probation
  • Civil suits
  • Community service

Poor decisions are often made under the influence of alcohol and other drugs:
  • Driving too quickly/slowly
  • Engaging in sex
  • Failing to do school work
  • Arguments/fights
  • Spending too much money
Positive coping skills involve making choices which resolve problems rather than just hide them. Examples of positive ways of coping include:
  • Exercise
  • Regular eating
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Cultivate helpful friends
  • Learn to say “NO”



Blood Alcohol Level and Impaired driving

Alcohol affects your driving ability

The Cost of Alcohol and Drug Impairment

Psychological factors related to alcohol and other drugs

Effects of Different Types of Drugs

Stress, emotions, and fatigue





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Who is required to take this 4-hour drug and alcohol course?


This is a first-time drivers ed course for new aspiring drivers. The state of Florida requires all new drivers take a 4-hour drug and alcohol course. If you want your Permit License you must take this course. You can take the DATA course when you are 14 1/2. You can sign up right now at our website. Our course is easy and fun!
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