This begs some fascinating questions.
Could targeting specific roles in the culture of addiction bring others into recovery with them–a kind of domino effect?
How many of your friends drink alcohol? How many might say they used alcohol problematically? What about illicit drugs? Probably a smaller proportion of the people you know take drugs, but perhaps a few have experienced problems with drug use at some point in the life.
For the 160 current and former drug users who took part in the RSA’s User-Centred Drug Services Project survey, answers to these questions are, I presume, rather different to yours. …30 per cent said that all of the people they know use drugs, with most of them using problematically. Similarly, around a third reported that all of the people they know used alcohol, and around half of them had problems because of it.
…The average probability of smoking, for example, is found to be 61 per cent higher if a friend smokes (one degree of separation), 29 per cent higher at two degrees of separation, and 11 per cent higher at three degrees of separation.
A recent RSA paper on problem drug use suggests that recovery may be ‘contagious’ in the same way. This is an important insight, but problematic: if all of the people you know take drugs, how do you get out of this networked influence that entrenches drug use? A study (external PDF) of drug user networks in Connecticut found that, on average, 85 per cent of the people in a drug user’s personal social network (or ego-network) used drugs. Piecing together the community-wide drug using network, the researchers found clustering of drug users into African American, Puerto Rican and White communities. Interestingly, the mapping also revealed who the key influencers were in the drug using network; those ‘nodes’ at the centre of the network most strongly connected to large numbers of other users.
The RSA is extending its work on drugs to look at how we might similarly map drug using networks in Peterborough, with a view to identifying and working with these potential ‘recovery champions’ to transmit recovery through the network. There is good reason to try this: intervention programmes to tackle smoking and alcohol use that deliberately employ peer effects and social network ‘modification’ are found to be more effective than those that do not.