What Are Set and Setting in Developing Addiction?

A model poses as a teenage boy smoking pot
Marijuana Abuse. Image (c) Doug Menuez / Getty Images


Set and setting refer to the psychological and social context in which addictive behavior develops.

"Set" refers to the psychological mindset of the person engaging in the addictive behavior, that is, their personality and frame of mind while they are using drugs or carrying out the addictive behavior. For example, the "set" of someone about to drink an alcoholic drink can range from anxious or depressed, in the case of someone drinking to try and self-medicate their mental health problems, to happy and celebratory in the case of someone toasting a bride and groom.

"Setting" refers to the physical and social setting in which the addictive behavior occurs, and includes things like the location where the addictive behavior takes place, whether the behavior is legal, who else is there, and whether they are also engaging in the addictive behavior. There are a wide range of settings in which addictive behaviors take place, from socially acceptable settings such as bars, casinos, restaurants and gyms, to secretive, illicit settings, such as crack houses, illegal brothels, and public restrooms.

The importance of set and setting to the ability for people to control addictive behavior was discovered in the 1960s and 1970s, from research into illicit drug use by Dr. Norman Zinberg.

Pronunciation: set and set-ting

Also Known As: frame of mind, drug use location

Examples: The set and setting in which Phil started using cannabis involved the excitement of skipping classes and smoking behind the gym with the "cool" kids, who always carried drugs and were willing to share -- for the right price.

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