Social Control Theory Versus Self-Control Theory

Social control and self-control theories are two individualistic theories that explain why deviant behavior occurs and why people begin to use drugs. The main similarity between these theories is that they are based on commitment. The more committed a person is to something or someone, the less likely they will engage in drug use. Moreover, both theories consider human beliefs as a crucial factor influencing their behavior. If people believe that their social bonds are important or they are committed to their parents and, consequently, have a high level of self-control, they will be less likely to use drugs.

At the same time, social control and self-control theories differ from each other. Social control theory assumes that drug use is related to “the absence of the social controls encouraging conformity” (Goode, 2015, p. 199). These social controls are strong when people have close and strong social bonds, like a family, work, love relationships, and others. If these ties are weak or absent, a person will be more likely to use drugs. Self-control theory explains drug use in the following way: people with a lack of self-control are prone to drug use (Goode, 2015, p. 201). Self-control is cultivated early in life, and if parents do not participate in the socialization process of their child, the child will lack self-control in the future.

One can see that the main difference between the analyzed theories is in the position of a person in society and their connections with other people. Social control theory considers drug use through the perspective of factors influencing a person’s behavior throughout their lifetime, such as social bonds. Self-control theory focuses on the early stages of human life, namely, parental connections. These two theories are incompatible because if a person has low self-control, they cannot attain strong social bonds, like marriage, family, or education, which means that social control will be irrelevant.


Goode, E. (2015). Drugs in American society (9th ed.). McGraw Hill Education.

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