The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse

Paper Info
Page count 5
Word count 1437
Read time 6 min
Topic Sociology
Type Research Paper
Language 🇺🇸 US


There exists a prevalent hypothesis of the existence of a correlational dynamic between socioeconomic status and the likelihood of substance abuse. I believe it is an important area of social work discipline since it involves a prevalent problem and links it to an already socially vulnerable group. Social class is the antecedent variable, and the likelihood of substance abuse is the consequent variable in this context.

Concept Definition

Social class and its manifestation, socioeconomic background, consists of a variety of interlinked factors that define the financial and, to a lesser extent, societal well-being of an individual. A social class is a collection of ideas in the social sciences and political theory that are centered on models of social stratification that occur in a class society, in which individuals are divided into hierarchical social categories, the most frequent of which are the upper, middle, and lower classes. In practice, it determines the degree of access to various resources that a child is allowed a birth, including educational, medical, recreational, etc.

Substance abuse refers to the misuse of illicit drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine is referred to as drug abuse. It might also be the misuse of legal drugs like alcohol, nicotine, or prescribed medications. The most often abused legal substance is alcohol due to its relative accessibility and numerous distribution channels. Social workers who specialize in substance addiction work in hospitals, treatment centers, jails, non-profit organizations, and private offices. Because addiction is difficult to treat, substance misuse is regarded as the most emotionally draining area of social work. It requires a lot of patience to help addicted people cope with mood swings and potential relapses. Thus, by researching the broader context of the problem, one might benefit the professionals in one of the most trying areas of social work.

This project aims to assess the empirical study of this knowledge proposition by reviewing empirical articles. Each strategy used to find information about the empirical status of this journey proposition is depicted in the chart below:

Database Key words Number of abstracts
EBSCO Social class substance abuse correlation bivariate 1221
PsychINFO (2010-2021) Addiction substance abuse social class poverty 560
Medline (2010-2021) Socioeconomic background addiction bivariate research 99

I did not find the findings of the empirical articles reviewed particularly surprising, as the lasting impacts of intergenerational poverty on individual physical and mental well-being are common study subjects for social sciences. However, strong empirical evidence has helped in better understanding the structure and the extent of this dynamic, as well as the limitations that emerge when interpreting the results incorrectly.


Zhang and Slesnick studied homeless youth and their patterns of substance use, testing the findings empirically for every category identified. The findings demonstrated that the high-declining use of substances correlated with the high-increasing social stability, while high-stable use was paired with a low-stable level of social security. In comparison to MET and CM, CRA was shown to be superior in improving drug use and social stability at the same time, whereas CM was found to be more successful than MET. The co-occurring patterns of drug use and social stability were distinguished by personal characteristics such as race, age, coping mechanisms, and behavior issues. The study confirms the correlation between lower socioeconomic status and a higher likelihood of more frequent use of substances in greater quantities. It is important to clarify that although homeless young people are generally considered to be extremely socioeconomically disadvantaged, internal gradations of status are identified within the community.

The study conducted by Finch, Ramo, Delucchi, Liu, and Prochaska indicates a more complicated and less linear relationship between substance use and social status. Objective and subjective indicators of social status, such as educational background and social hierarchy within a group respectively, have been compared in terms of predicting social status. The latter is believed to be better indicative of the factor, due to better accounting for individual choices of a person. After adjusting for objective indicators of SES, this study investigates the connection between SSS and the severity of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use. Young individuals (N = 1,987) aged between 18 and 25 who have smoked at least once within a month of the study start were recruited and anonymously polled online. SSS was evaluated in three distinct empirical models that accounted financial situation, both personal and hereditary, number of years in schooling, current employment, and the level of education obtained by parents. The aim of the study was to determine whether these factors of social status impact the severity of cannabis, alcohol or tobacco use.

SSS was positively linked with household income (b =.31), work status (b =.07), years of schooling (b =.09), and parents’ education levels (b =.16) (all p values.001); the level of household income was not noticeably correlated with substance use (p =.11). All three models matched the data well. SSS was linked to the severity of tobacco (b =.13, p. amounts to.001) and cannabis use (b = 36, p =.02), but not to the severity of alcohol use (b =.01, p =.56). Higher relative socioeconomic status is correlated with lower rates of tobacco and cannabis use among the studied age group, although the intensity of alcohol use appears to be comparably similar throughout most social backgrounds. The prices of some of the restricted substances in question have also been taken into account, meaning it is significantly easier for wealthier subjects to access them.

Sidorchuk, Goodman, and Koupil have conducted an empirical study investigating the relationship between socioeconomic background, social mobility, and alcohol addiction in Swedish society. The subjects were separated on the gender basis to introduce further control element. After accounting for parental backgrounds, the effect of lower grandparental socioeconomic background on grandchildren in the male group of subjects was reduced in weight. It became non-significant in men (adjusted jeopardy ratio (HR) = 1.80 (95 percent CI; 1.07, 3.03) in women, HR = 1.32 (95 percent CI; 0.93, 1.89) in men). In the female group of subjects, there was no evidence of a link between grandparental social and ARD risk. Men were more at risk of developing an alcohol abuse problem in both populations if both parents and grandparents were from a low-income family (HR = 1.82 (95 percent CI; 1.22-2.72); population II: HR = 1.68 (95 percent CI; 1.02-2.76).

Thus, the social patterns of ARD’s were found to be largely contextual and affected by time, gender, and the origin class of the grandparents. Grandparental social status appears to have a less impact on the likelihood of the addiction development on subjects as time goes on, although chronic grandparental-to-parental socioeconomic disadvantage is still linked to a greater alcoholism risk in men. Continuity of disadvantaged circumstances, particularly when applied to men, should be addressed when addressing higher-risk populations.

After examining the three articles acquired during the empirical search, it becomes evident that the dynamic between variables is more complex than originally theorized. Multiple other socially significant variables interfere with the analysis, making the results vary between different contexts considered. Certain social circles, such as youths, are often additionally pressured into drinking through peer influence regardless of their financial status or the social status of their families. Nevertheless, class is evidently a factor in the public perception of an individual’s substance use and, in certain cases, the lower economic background has been proven to have direct influence of a substance abuse disorder development. Mixed evidence was found for the titular claim, with little information to disprove it, some information to confirm it and a larger pool of information to discuss it alongside other factors of interest. However, it is safe to conclude that the social characteristics that make a person more vulnerable overall, including low-income background, also contribute to their greater vulnerability against substances and their misuse.

The implication of this research proposition is beneficial to the fight of social workers against drug abuse and addiction in the modern society. Social service users are typically ashamed or secretive about their drug usage, making substance misuse one of the most challenging problems to discover. As a social worker, one must be mindful of the possibility of substance misuse in every client seeking assistance. By deepening an understanding of the underlying systemic causes behind substance addiction and learning to identify correlating risk factors, a social worker might successfully identify the addiction at its earlier stages. However, the empirical article review implies the inherent complexity of the matter and its overlaps with other socially significant factors. Race, class, gender, social mobility, age, and professional environment must be analyzed in tandem to better assist the most vulnerable members of society.


Finch, K. A., Ramo, D. E., Delucchi, K. L., Liu, H., & Prochaska, J. J. (2013). Subjective social status and substance use severity in a young adult sample. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 901–908. Web.

Sidorchuk, A., Goodman, A., & Koupil, I. (2018). Social class, social mobility and alcohol-related disorders in Swedish men and women: A study of four generations. PloS one, 13(2), e0191855. Web.

Zhang, J., & Slesnick, N. (2018). Substance use and social stability of homeless youth: A comparison of three interventions. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 32(8), 873–884. Web.

Cite this paper


NerdyBro. (2023, January 16). The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse. Retrieved from


NerdyBro. (2023, January 16). The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse.

Work Cited

"The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse." NerdyBro, 16 Jan. 2023,


NerdyBro. (2023) 'The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse'. 16 January.


NerdyBro. 2023. "The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse." January 16, 2023.

1. NerdyBro. "The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse." January 16, 2023.


NerdyBro. "The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Class and Substance Abuse." January 16, 2023.