Relationships Between Social Control, Psychedelics and Alcohol

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About this sample


Words: 1170 |

Pages: 3|

6 min read

Published: Aug 30, 2022

Words: 1170|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Aug 30, 2022

Table of contents

  1. Alcohol
  2. Psychedelics
  3. Conclusion

The implementation of social controls is probable through education, subcultural rituals and personal awareness. This essay will explore the significance of social controls through psychedelics and alcohol. It will also discuss the various social controls in drug use and the extent to which they minimise harm in users in Western and non-Western societies.

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Zinberg and Harding define social controls and sanctions as the way in which a drug should be consumed and utilized. These sanctions comprise of the ‘informal and unspoken values or rules of conduct shared by a group…’. Although there are formal laws and policies that regulate the use of drugs, society creates their own set that are only understood by individuals who partake in such behaviour or are interested in the culture. Rituals defined by Zinberg and Harding are the ‘stylized, prescribed behaviour surrounding the use of a drug’ which refer to the way in which individuals acquire and consume as well as the environment in which they partake in this culture. Social controls are significant in order to maintain a level of understanding and peace within society. An article by Zinberg and Harding, Drugs, Alcohol and Alternate states of conscious explores the social controls and rituals of alcohol consumption, comparing both western and non-western practices.


Alcohol is a depressant that slows down vital body functions such as messages between the brain and body as well as affects the way in which individuals think, behave and feel. Although it is not called a drug is affects individuals’ brains and bodies the same way that illicit drugs such as cannabis do. In western societies due to rituals such as weddings, birthdays and party’s alcohol consumption is encouraged and accepted. Western societies attempt to control the negative impact of alcohol through legal regulations such as legal age limit and restrictions when driving while intoxicated. Every culture reacts to alcohol consumption differently, for example European families allow their children to try alcohol at younger ages. This attempts to reduce the negative affects later on in life as they have higher alcohol tolerances and are less likely to be involved in alcohol related incidences. However, this is also a social norm in European countries as alcohol is included in every cultural and social event. Zinberg’s article concludes that positive social controls exist, encouraging drinking at religious events and special occasions, legal restrictions and what society judges as excessive usage.

Children learn about social norms and sanctions early on in life through television, newspapers and movies, in particular westernized movies. Additionally, these early encounters allow the child to develop a sense that alcohol is pleasant, can be controlled and is socially approved. According to Harding and Zinberg, the regular introduction of alcohol by parents contributes to a stable attitude on drug consumption and an understanding of the effect substances can have on an individual. The article also suggested that various social sanctions on choice of alcohol were dependant on variables such as personality factors, social forces and religion. In non-western societies such as the Middle Eastern/Arab regions, alcohol is haram (forbidden). However, they are not prohibited to sell alcohol to foreigners. Only extremely conservative countries have imposed a legal ban on the sale, consumption and production of alcohol such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya whereas other countries have prohibited Muslim citizens from consuming it. Another example of the interaction between non-westernised societies and alcohol is the American Indian tribe. Within the tribe alcohol was a ‘longstanding, highly ritualized, controlled use of naturally occurring psychoactive plants’. Some tribes made weak beers for traditional purposes before European colonisation. After colonisation, distilled spirits and wine became available and American Indians were unsure and naive on how to control their alcohol intake. Unfortunately, social controls between American Indians was hard to estimate due to varying drinking practices from tribe to tribe as a result of cultural appropriation and colonisation.


Psychedelics are a variety of drugs such as mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, peyote, MDA. These drugs are hallucinogens which work by altering perception by interfering with the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. The social ritual for psychedelic drugs is through group participation as well as experienced users guiding unfamiliar users. Zinberg and Harding’s article describes participants ‘needing more energy and wanting to be in a good mood’ as well as suggesting using psychedelics with at least a two-week interval. Grund, Kaplan and DeVries suggest that the social controls psychedelic rituals are successful in monitoring and controlling addiction and encourages a positive experience while taking the drug. However, Harding & Zinberg claim that psychedelics provide a user with a positive experience allowing for the chance of addiction and compulsive users. Psychedelic drugs such as LSD have become popular in western societies especially amongst the younger generations. The desire to try party drugs and experience what everyone else is may promote addiction and compulsive behaviour and usage. Social controls and rituals are used to promote positive consumption of drugs in western societies compared to non-western societies where some rituals include treating patients with psychedelic drugs.

The journal by Marlene Dobkin de Rios describes healers in the Peruvian Amazon who conduct rituals such as ayahuasca to ‘capture the soul of the man’ and sing ritual songs. Similarly, another article suggests that ayahuasca rituals protect individuals and groups from the negative consequences of psychedelic drugs. The difference between western and non-western societies is that individuals in western societies use psychedelic drugs as a ‘party drug’ and wish to experience a positive trip which increase the chance of drug abuse whereas in non-western societies though ayahuasca rituals patients are healed and the use of the drug is controlled. Although the psychedelic drug usage is different between western and non-western societies, rituals in non-western societies are designed to ensure communities are safe and act as regulators. The difference between Zinberg and Harding’s findings compared to Weil’s is that Weil portrays the importance of drugs for healing compared to Zinberg who explains the importance of social control through setting.

In recent years, drug control treaties have been criticised due to the increase in usage of illicit drugs in low to middle income countries and high-income countries. This plays into the stereotypes of drug users as individuals believe that low income countries will turn to drugs and poverty and high-income countries use drugs as they have the income to afford them. This portrays the difference between western and non-western countries as well as the difference between the rich and poor. Both articles demonstrate the importance of social controls and sanctions in creating frameworks to monitor and control the harmful effects of drugs such as drug overdose.

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The importance of social controls was illustrated though the examples of alcohol and psychedelics. By understanding subcultural rituals, having personal awareness and education social controls are able to be implemented in both western and non-western societies. By exploring the various social controls in drug use as well as though alcohol and psychedelics, individuals are able to understand the controls and sanctions and the extent to which they can minimise harm throughout both societies despite the differences.  

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Relationships Between Social Control, Psychedelics and Alcohol. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
“Relationships Between Social Control, Psychedelics and Alcohol.” GradesFixer, 30 Aug. 2022,
Relationships Between Social Control, Psychedelics and Alcohol. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
Relationships Between Social Control, Psychedelics and Alcohol [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Aug 30 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from:
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