U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

American Drug Panic of the 1980s: Social Construction or Objective Threat?

NCJ Number
Violence, Aggression and Terrorism Volume: 3 Issue: 4 Dated: (1989) Pages: 327-348
E Goode
Date Published
This article examines the relative merits of the objectivist and constructionist perspectives on the study of social problems.
The objectivist approach defines social problems by the concrete, scientifically measurable damage conditions cause, or the objective dangers they pose, to human life. The constructionist approach defines social problems by the public concern that conditions or issues generate. The American drug crisis or panic of the 1980s is used as a specific issue or condition to illuminate the viability of these two approaches. Some constructionists have minimized the objective harm caused or threat posed by drug misuse during the period, and argue that it actually diminished during the course of the 1980s, while public concern erupted. Using concrete indicators, the author shows that, although public concern did increase dramatically, key indicators point to a concomitant increase in drug misuse during this decade, even though use indicators were actually down. He suggests that a synthesis of the objective and subjective approaches may be necessary to understanding social problems. References