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Sociological Causes of Addiction and the Temperance Model

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. Updated: Jun 5th 2019

Psychology is a science that primarily concerns itself with understanding individual human behavior. Sociology is a science that primarily concerns itself with understanding the behavior of large groups. These groups include families, organizations, societies, and cultures. From this perspective, addiction is a harmful behavior that affects both individuals and groups. As such, we can only understand and correct addiction within the context of the groups in which it occurs.

group drinking wineMany of these theories have not been tested or applied to every specific type of addiction. Nonetheless, scientists and practitioners reasonably assume they apply in some way to all addictions. As research in this area continues, we may learn some theories are more applicable to a certain types of addiction.

Temperance Model of Addiction and Recovery Implications (substances are poisonous):

According to the temperance model, addiction is caused by the mere exposure to addictive substances (or activities). These substances and activities are dangerous for everyone. Societies can correct addiction by eliminating the availability of these dangerous substance and activities. An underlying premise of the temperance model is that societies have an obligation to protect its members from these dangers. Although temperance societies have faded away, this basic premise remains prominent. This is particularly true for certain substances such as heroin or methamphetamine. Other substances such as alcohol and tobacco are apparently considered less threatening.

Recovery takes the form of prevention.  Societies can achieve this by controlling and limiting access to dangerous substances and activities.  Prevention may be attempted through outright prohibition. The United States attempted to do this with alcohol between 1919 and 1933. Alternatively, prevention might be achieved by reducing the availability of dangerous substances and activities.  The heavy taxation of cigarettes is one example. 

Questions for personal reflection from the temperance model: Wouldn't it be helpful to think of my addiction as very damaging? What harm has it caused me? What harm has it caused my community? I've noticed myself and others having trouble with self-regulation. Wouldn't it be helpful if availability were limited? What have we learned from efforts to limit access to addictive substances and activities? Should I remove alcohol from my home? It might serve as a temptation to my children and me.


A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D.

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