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Maintaining order and promoting predictability of behavior are the products of a society using social control techniques. There are two basic methods of social control The internalization of group norms and control through external pressures. (Vago,11) These methods can be categorized as informal and formal control mechanisms. The style of social control is contingent upon such factors as the size and complexity of the society, consensus of norms and values, and ideologies.

Informal social controls are common in smaller, traditional and homogeneous societies. Behavior and control are not carried out through official group mechanisms and no one is specifically designated to be in charge of enforcement. Social control is primarily dependant upon self-sanctioning. Relationships in these societies are face-to-face and the social interaction is between neighbors. Members participate in local organizations, have stable family relationships, and are less likely to move geographically.

Most individuals conduct themselves in an acceptable manner because they fear disapproval from family, friends, and neighbors. Deviates are exposed to control mechanisms such as gossip, ridicule, and humiliation.

Formal social controls are more common in societies that have a diverse population. Other common traits include lack of direct communication, absence of similar values, attitudes, and standards of conduct. As societies become more complex and diversified, economic inequities occur, expectations rise, and groups with different interests struggle competitively. With all of this comes the need for formal social control mechanisms.

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Formal social control is characterized by “ (1) explicit rules of conduct, () planned use of sanctions to support the rules, and () designated officials to interpret and enforce the rules and often to make them.” (Vago, 1) These formal social controls commence when informal controls are inadequate to preserve conformity. Laws, rewards and penalties are all types of formal social control. Laws are social controls that are activated when other forms of control mechanisms are ineffective or unavailable.

Approximately 0 million Americans regularly use marijuana. Its use among the young has risen rapidly since 18. (Vago, 11) 50 percent of the marijuana consumed in the United Stated is produced domestically. (Vago, 1) Laws, fines, and imprisonment are all forms of formal social control mechanisms aimed at preventing the use of illicit drugs. Millions of dollars are budgeted each year for specific government agencies and special enforcement programs designed to enforce these controls. Yet, with all of this money and effort extended, approximately 80 percent of Americans will still try an illicit drug by their mid-0s. American markets absorb over 60 percent of the world’s products of illegal drugs. (Vago, 11)

The illegal drug industry continues to be very profitable. The massive supply of drugs on the market keeps the price for consumers nominal. It is obvious that the laws, negative sanctions and millions of dollars spent on enforcement have not successfully impacted the use, buying, or selling of illicit drugs in the United Stated.

Education and public service announcements are two types of informal social control methods targeting the use of illegal drugs. One televised commercial described an egg frying in a pan as your brain on drugs. This was so popular that T-shirts were made with a picture of the egg and frying pan. Drug awareness and resistance education (D.A.R.E.) is a popular school based program conducted by police officers to fifth and sixth graders. The program educates children on the legal and health dangers of drug use. Community role models are also used and the children make a pledge in front of their classmates declaring that they will not use drugs.

The effectiveness of these control methods are difficult to gauge. I doubt anyone seriously contemplating using cocaine will be persuaded not to due to a television commercial. However, I do believe it reinforces that society considers drug use as wrong and not normal behavior.

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