Strain Theory

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Using General Strain Theory to Understand
Drug and Alcohol Use in Canada:
An Examination of how Strain, its Conditioning Variables
and Gender are Interrelated

by
Nicolas Asselin

A thesis submitted to the Department of Sociology
In conformity with the requirements for
the degree of Master of Arts

Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
(August, 2009)

Copyright ©Nicolas Asselin, 2009

ABSTRACT
This thesis uses the Canadian Drugs and Alcohol survey conducted in 1994 by Statistics Canada to explore how Agnew’s (1992, 2001, 2006) general strain theory can help to understand drug and alcohol use in Canada. Agnew argues that experiences of strain, which include an array of negative life events, produce a negative emotional response which creates pressure for corrective action. In postulating why certain individuals are more likely to react to strain with deviant behaviour, Agnew (1992, 2001, 2006) emphasizes the importance of variables that condition the effects of strain on deviance. It is argued that people are less likely to respond to strain with deviant coping strategies depending upon their levels of social control, constraint, social support and deviant peers and values (Agnew 1992; Broidy and Agnew 1997; Agnew 2006). Results are very supportive of GST as measures of objective and subjective strains as well measures of the conditioning variables are consistently associated with drug and alcohol use in hypothesized directions; strain measures also tended to interact with conditioning variables in associations with substance use. Hypotheses surrounding gender differences were also supported as females generally scored higher than males on measures argued to protect against the effects of strain and lower on measures argued to encourage deviant coping. Additionally, objective financial strain tended to have a stronger effect on male substance use while subjective strains tended to be more important in the prediction of female substance use. Avenues for further research are discussed including ways to ameliorate the adaptation of GST to gendered substance use patterns.

ii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Stephen Baron for the help and guidance he provided me along the way; without his input and attention to detail, my thesis would not be what it is today. Dr. Stephen Gyimah was also important to my work as he provided me with the statistical skills and knowledge to complete my analyses. I would also like to acknowledge my Fiancée, Amy Saundercook, who was always there to encourage me to complete my work when I felt like giving up. Last but not least, I would like to thank my older brother, Edouard Asselin, for always watching over me and my parents, Celia Asselin and David Searle, for their continual support.

I dedicate this thesis to my late father, Pierre Asselin.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Abstract ............................................................................................................................................ ii Acknowledgements ......................................................................................................................... iii Table of Contents ........................................................................................................................... iiv List of Tables ............................................................................................................................... v-vi Chapter 1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 1 Chapter 2 Theoretical Framework ................................................................................................... 5 Chapter 3 Literature Review .......................................................................................................... 25 Chapter 4 Hypotheses...
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