John is 17 and has been drinking heavily since he was 12. He drinks almost every day, but when he is particularly anxious, he drinks until he passes out. His father and his grandfather were diagnosed alcoholics; the father drank himself to death when John was 14. His mother and older brother do not drink at all, and they have always told John that he is the family’s black sheep, the rebellious who is destined to be like his father.
What do you think causes John‘s behavior — genetics? Early childhood experiences? Problems with feelings and thoughts? Current circumstances? Wider society? Defend your choice. The ensuing discussion may lead to an examination of the methods by which we could discover the causes of alcoholism. It should also show how multiple perspectives can shed light on a single case. Use the following as a jumping off point for your discussion. Respond to at least one post from one of your classmates.
From the biogenic perspective, you could list genetic vulnerability and briefly explain the concept of concordance. If John had an identical twin, would he, too, drink heavily and at the same times? Also under the biogenic heading,neurochemical differences can be discussed. If we found that John metabolized alcohol differently from his older brother, would that support a biogenicexplanation? Point out the need for a preexisting biological difference. Finally, this is an example of diathesis‑stress theory. If John has a preexisting, inherited vulnerability, is he doomed to become an alcoholic? (Most likely, a combination of genetic factors and family and social stressors produced this pattern of use.)
From the psychodynamic perspective, you could discuss oral fixation. Is dependency a result or a cause of drinking? What information would suggest that early deprivation caused John’s adolescent behavior? John probably engages in the defenses of rationalization, denial, and projection.
Humanistic theorists might focus on John’s lack of self-esteem or the conditions of worth that his family might have placed on loving him. Alienated from society, he may find comfort in intoxication and escape from responsibility. Does he freely choose to drink heavily? Is he being honest with his feelings?
Behaviorists would look at how John’s father and grandfather modeled how to drink heavily. At the same time, they probably introduced a good deal of stress in the boy’s life, and he probably learned that drinking reduced that stress. If his mother and brother criticized him a great deal, perhaps drinking became an operant behavior that alleviated the criticism temporarily, illustrating operant conditioning’s concept of negative reinforcement. Finally, if the sight and smell of alcohol now produce an automatic response in John, we could see his use as having a classically conditioned quality, too.
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