To sum up, events and experiences that sever young people from normative ideals and positively sanctioned statuses create feelings of alienation or social isolation within them and earn them undesired statuses and treatment from important others (personal marginalization). Social marginalization, i.e., an individual’s relative economic, employment, educational, and cultural deprivation compared to those around them, works in a similar fashion to provide a second source of alienation from mainstream society. These two types of marginalization lead to an extreme discomfort in how individuals feel about who they are (ego identity discomfort). This discomfort, coupled with a strong sense of not being able to construct a definition of themselves (because external sources are exerting too much control) that will be positively sanctioned (lost control in defining an identity) motivate them to identify with alternative social groups (identification with a drug subcultural group). These groups provide opportunities to resolve identity problems.
Economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and popular culture set the stage for the appearance and growth of drug subcultural groups and help define the substance of the
identity-based solutions such groups will offer to those who are motivated to participate in them. Their effects on identification with a drug subcultural group are mediated by social
marginalization. Consequently, identification with a drug subcultural group reduces young
people’s ego identity discomfort or helps them, in the short term, to solve their identity problems. Drugs are sought as the solution because they provide, for the abuser, material symbolism, affect control, and identity creation. It is through this process that young people change from non-drug users to drug abusers.
Differences by Race, Gender, and Class. Scholars today increasingly note the
importance of centering basic elements of social organization (race, ethnicity, gender, and social class) in theory and research. Discussed below are some preliminary observations about how