17 Nov Study Examines Whether Discrimination Leads to Substance Use
Discrimination against members of minority groups can increase stress levels. For some, this stress can be dealt with in a healthy way, using positive actions and attitudes to combat the potentially discouraging choices of others. For others, however, the stress that results from a situation involving discrimination can be damaging when there is a lack of tools to address the problem.
A negative reaction to the stress caused by discrimination may focus on the use of illegal substances, such as alcohol or drugs. Research has long supported that discrimination is often associated with an increased use of alcohol or drugs, but there is not a clear causal relationship.
To better understand why some individuals turn to illegal substances to relieve stress, while others make healthy choices to deal with discrimination, Meg Gerrard and colleagues examined the relationship between discrimination stress and substance use. Gerrard is on staff at the Dartmouth Medical School’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire,
The study analyzed whether individuals tend to use alcohol or drugs as a method to cope within the constructs of their typical coping strategies, or if they used substances as a way to specifically address feelings of stress and negativity.
Gerrard used three separate studies to examine aspects of this relationship among a group of African-American adolescents. The third study followed the substance use habits of the adolescents to measure the long-term effects of the discrimination and its impact on substance use.
The findings showed that among participants who believed that substance use was an acceptable means of coping with negative feelings or situations were more likely to use substances as a way to cope when faced with discrimination when compared with those who did not believe that substance use was a good option for dealing with stress.
During the study which followed the individuals over an eight-year period, it was clear that those who believed that substance use was an acceptable way of coping continued to use substances throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Those who did not support substance use as a coping tool did not use substances into adulthood.
The finding suggests that the use of alcohol or drugs as an acceptable coping strategy can lead to long-term issues with maladaptive behaviors used as coping strategies in some individuals.
While the findings provide valuable information for understanding how discrimination may be linked to substance use in minorities, the study’s authors note that future research should focus on not only African-American individuals. The inclusion of additional minority groups may broaden the understanding of how discrimination can impact decisions about substance use.
In addition, the authors note that the role of parental support in these decisions may be a critical aspect not examined in the study. Parents who incorporate lessons and training in healthy coping strategies may be influential in the decisions of children following a discrimination-related situation.
The findings of the study are published in a recent issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
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