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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325

Resumen

GALVAN, Jorge; SERNA, Guadalupe  y  HERNANDEZ, Alejandro. Social networks approach: an alternative route for the study of the drug use conduct and its treatment. Salud Ment [online]. 2008, vol.31, n.5, pp.391-402. ISSN 0185-3325.

Introduction The purpose of this article is to show the principal contributions of the social network perspective to the understanding of drug use behavior and its treatment, based on a review of studies undertaken using this approach. The study of social networks has become a new means of explaining the causality of numerous social phenomena. It has proved to be a valuable contribution to the understanding of various problems related to individuals' physical and mental health, including drug use behavior. The literature has shown that the study of social networks contains the key to understanding drug use initiation and progression over time, since it has been proved that persons that use and abuse drugs are often surrounded by friends, relatives and acquaintances that abuse these substances or approve of this behavior. Paradigm of social networks and drug consumption This approach comprises a set of theories, methods and techniques used to understand social relations and the way these relations can influence individual and group behavior. This perspective assumes that the social network influences its members' behavior to a certain extent and that the degree of influence will depend on the way this network is shaped, the person's level of integration within the latter, the position the individual occupies, how he is linked to other members of the network and how important these links are in his life. Social network studies analyze the relationships established by individuals by examining their social network, defined as the set of significant individuals, family, friends and relationships established at school, university or work. They also analyze various components of social networks, such as their structure, type and the quality of the links and their function. Within the field of the study of addictive behavior, the social network perspective has proved useful in examining the pattern of individuals' relationships within their groups, analyzing the impact of this pattern on the level of similarity in substance use in these groups, and evaluating the influence of the peer group on behavior. Influence of social network on drug use behavior Various studies have repeatedly pointed out the influence of social networks on the various stages of addiction (starting, habituation and stopping). They have also shown that drug users' networks undergo significant changes during each of these stages. Several social factors have been linked to the starting, use and abuse of licit and illicit substances. The family, the prevailing norms in social networks and peer influence are the social aspects that have been most positively associated with this behavior. As with starting and becoming accustomed to drug use, the family and the prevailing norms among members of the social network are regarded in the literature as prominent factors in stopping substance abuse. Characteristics of drug users' social networks Several studies have been conducted to determine the nature of drug users' networks. These studies are based on comparative analyses of the characteristics of drug users' and non-users' networks. They also analyze whether the characteristics of these networks vary according to certain variables such as sex, age, race, type of drug, etc. Drug users' networks are known to be generally smaller. It has also been reported that their networks are clearly distinct from those of the normal population, containing a larger number of abusers (including friends and family members) and persons with psychiatric dysfunctions. Differences have also been found by type of drug; for example, opiate users' networks comprise members involved in illegal behaviors, as opposed to other drug users' networks. Other studies have also reported differences in networks as regards gender, the most common one being that female drug users receive less social support from their networks than their male counterparts. Influence of social networks on treatment Most studies to determine the role of social links in the treatment and recovery of persons with drug use problems have highlighted the importance of the support of both relatives and friends in seeking treatment in a timely fashion and obtaining positive results both during and after treatment. It has been shown that specific structures in drug users' networks are closely linked to certain treatment-resistant behaviors and that seeking timely treatment, being able to stop taking drugs and successful treatment are possible thanks to the help of a network of relatives and friends with a high level of support. Conclusions Studies on social networks can provide a complementary approach to documenting and determining, through the analysis of individuals' interpersonal relations, the influence of the social context on behaviors related to substance use. The use of the social network approach has produced a considerable amount of literature throughout the world, which has permitted the development of new knowledge for the theoretical advancement of this phenomenon, as well as a set of instruments and techniques for supporting the work of researchers dedicated to explaining this problem in specific contexts.

Palabras llave : Social network; drug use; treatment.

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