Addiction by Identification: A social psychological perspective on youth addictive behaviors

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisCollection of Articles


Addictive behaviors are a global phenomenon and pose serious and widespread public health threats. Adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable to the harms of addiction. When initiated during these developmentally sensitive time periods, addictive behaviors can disrupt all areas of healthy functioning. Addiction is typically understood as an alcohol or substance use disorder. However, addiction is a complex condition that can also manifest in an inability to stop partaking in certain behaviors. Problem gambling and compulsive Internet use are prominent examples of these types of behavioral addictions.

This dissertation examines how different social psychological factors are related to addictive behaviors among youth. The key social psychological factors assessed were social identification with both offline and online peer groups, social support, perceived norms, and loneliness. The addictive behaviors investigated in relation to these social processes were excessive alcohol use, excessive drug use, problem gambling, and compulsive Internet use. The dissertation consists of four distinct survey studies analyzing 15- to 25-year-old adolescents and young adults from Finland (N = 1,200), the United States (N = 1,212), South Korea (N = 1,192), and Spain (N = 1,212). Study 1 examined the role of offline peer group identification in addictive behaviors and psychological distress among Finnish youth. Study 2 compared social identification preferences and problem gambling among youth in Finland and the United States. Study 3 further expanded the cross-national context and included data from youth in South Korea. The study examined the relationship between loneliness and addictive behaviors. Study 4 added a dataset from Spain and investigated if following gambling-related norms online is related to problem gambling in four countries.

According to the results, excessive alcohol use was associated with stronger peergroup identification. Youths who participated in excessive drug use, problem gambling, or compulsive Internet use seemed to have weaker social connections with their peers. All of the addictive behaviors were associated with higher psychological distress, but excessive drinkers experienced less psychological distress, likely due to their stronger social relations. Study 2 showed that social identification with an offline primary peer group was associated with less problem gambling among Finnish youths when they also reported receiving social support. Identifying with an online primary peer group was related to higher problem gambling among youth in the United States. According to Study 3, loneliness was a significant risk factor for youth compulsive Internet use in Finland, the United States, and South Korea. Study 4 found that following perceived gambling norms online was associated with higher problem gambling across the four countries. The results of this dissertation highlight that while social relationships are essential and serve multiple purposes for young individuals, they are also an important element in youth addictive behaviors. Different social psychological factors such as social identity and norms can either protect youth from or predispose them to different addictive behavior patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTampere
PublisherTampere University
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-1718-8
ISBN (Print)978-952-03-1717-1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (articles)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028


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